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School shooting victim expected to recover

Officials try to determine a motive, with the Kern County sheriff saying the assailant believed that the two students he targeted had bullied him.

January 11, 2013|By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times
  • A day after the shooting at Taft Union High School in Kern County, many students, family members and friends gathered at the school to attend counseling sessions or offer each other comfort.
A day after the shooting at Taft Union High School in Kern County, many students,… (Henry A. Barrios, The Bakersfield…)

A Taft Union High School student targeted and shot by a classmate was on life support and in intensive care Friday but is expected to recover, hospital officials said, as law enforcement authorities sought to discern a motive for the attack.

The 16-year-old boy, whom authorities have not identified, suffered injuries to the lungs and liver after shotgun pellets hit his chest and abdomen, officials at Kern County Medical Center said.

"He's in … an induced coma to protect him," said Paul Hensler, chief executive officer of the Bakersfield-based facility, which is a trauma center.

Hensler said the boy had undergone about three hours of surgery on Thursday and would probably need "additional surgeries after he's stronger."

Law enforcement officials said the suspect, also age 16, would be charged with attempted murder. They did not give his name because he is a minor.

They said they were investigating what role bullying may have had in motivating him to fire a 12-gauge shotgun at students in his science class. In addition to the hospitalized victim, the suspect tried to shoot a second student and missed before the teacher was able to talk him down, authorities said.

"He certainly believed the two he targeted had bullied him," Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood told reporters at a news briefing. "Whether or not that occurred, we don't know that."

Youngblood said the suspect planned the attack the night before and used a shotgun owned by his brother. A school surveillance camera captured the boy as he entered a side entrance to the campus "trying to conceal the shotgun." The video "showed he was nervous," Youngblood said.

In the scramble to escape, some students barricaded themselves in a storage closet, while others fled through a back door, authorities said. Two additional students suffered minor injuries. One girl was close to the assailant as he fired off rounds and was treated at a local hospital for possible hearing damage; another hurt her ankle, Youngblood said.

Classes were canceled Friday, but the school remained open for a few hours so staff and students could collect belongings left behind during the mayhem. Grief counselors were available on campus "to talk to people," said Ray Pruitt, public information officer for the Kern County Sheriff's Department.

Sixteen-year-old junior Oscar Martinez said in a telephone interview that some students who stopped by the campus Friday were crying. Others were hugging and holding hands.

"It's a small town. We really can't believe it happened in Taft," said Oscar, who ran from the school building when word spread that a shooter was at large.

Classes were scheduled to resume Monday.

ann.simmons@latimes.com

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