(Doug Keeler ~ Taft Midway Driller, AP)
Kern County sheriff Donny Youngblood said at a news conference Thursday night that the 16-year-old used a shotgun that belonged to his brother and went to bed Wednesday night with a plan to shoot two fellow students.
Youngblood said surveillance video showed the boy trying to conceal the gun as he nervously entered Taft Union High School through a side entrance after school had started Thursday morning.
He entered a classroom, shot and critically injured one student, then fired on others before a teacher and another staff member talked him into surrendering.
The gunman had as many as 20 rounds of ammunition in his pocket, the sheriff said.
When the shots were fired, the teacher tried to move more than two dozen students out a back door and also engaged the shooter in conversation to distract him, Youngblood said. A campus supervisor responding to a call of shots fired also began talking to the gunman.
"They talked him into putting that shotgun down. He in fact told the teacher, ‘I don't want to shoot you,' and named the person that he wanted to shoot," Youngblood said.
"The heroics of these two people goes without saying. ... They could have just as easily ... tried to get out of the classroom and left students and they didn't," the sheriff said. "They knew not to let him leave the classroom with that shotgun."
The shooter didn't show up for first period then interrupted the class of 28 students.
Investigators had not yet had a chance to interview the student and so had no immediate word on a motive or whether the attacker had a disciplinary record. Nor did they know where he got the shotgun.
The wounded student was flown to a hospital in Bakersfield. Officials said a female student was hospitalized with possible hearing damage because the shotgun was fired close to her ear, and another girl received minor injuries during the scramble to flee when she fell over a table.
Officials said there usually is an armed officer on campus, but the person wasn't there because he was snowed in. Taft police officers arrived within 60 seconds of first reports.
Taft is a community of fewer than 10,000 people amid oil and natural gas production fields about 120 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
The attack came less than a month after a gunman massacred 20 children and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., then killed himself.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement that her father attended Taft Union and she has visited the school throughout the years.
"At this moment my thoughts and prayers are with the victims, and I wish them a speedy recovery," Feinstein said. "But how many more shootings must there be in America before we come to the realization that guns and grievances do not belong together?"
About 900 students are enrolled at the high school, which includes 9th through 12th grades. Authorities went room by room through the school and checked backpacks to make sure no other weapons were on campus.
Masses of parents headed to the school football field to find their children.
Wilhelmina Reum, whose daughter Alexis Singleton is a fourth-grader at a nearby elementary school, got word of the attack while she was about 35 miles away in Bakersfield and immediately sped back to Taft.
"I just kept thinking this can't be happening in my little town," she told The Associated Press.
"I was afraid I was going to get hurt," Alexis said. "I just wanted my mom to get here so I could go home."
At the state Capitol, Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said the thoughts and prayers of legislators were with the people at the Taft school.
"It really is just another very sad moment as we deal with the ongoing reality of gun violence that has captured so much of our attention this last year," Perez said.