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Sparks, Nev., stunned after student kills teacher, himself

Two 12-year-old boys at the middle school are wounded in the shooting with a semiautomatic handgun during the bustling start of the school day.

October 21, 2013|By Melanie Mason and Ari Bloomekatz
  • A Sparks Middle School student and her mother walk together after students were evacuated following a shooting that left two dead at the school.
A Sparks Middle School student and her mother walk together after students… (Kevin Clifford / Associated…)

SPARKS, Nev. — A middle school crowded with parents dropping off their children and students hurrying to class erupted into chaos Monday morning as a student drew a semiautomatic handgun and opened fire, killing a teacher and wounding two students before fatally turning the gun on himself.

The unidentified shooter was dressed in khaki slacks that are part of Sparks Middle School's required uniform, witnesses said. He shot one 12-year-old boy in the abdomen and another 12-year-old boy in the shoulder, Sparks Police Department Deputy Chief Tom Miller said, adding that both wounded boys were listed in stable condition. But he declined to identify any of the students or provide additional details, other than confirming that the shooter had committed suicide.

Witnesses said the slain man, identified by family members as eighth-grade math teacher Michael Landsberry, tried to intervene before the boy with the gun aimed his weapon at him and fired.

"We've got video we have to review, people we've got to talk to," said Tom Robinson, deputy chief of the Reno Police Department. "But in my estimation, he is a hero. We do know he was trying to intervene."

Relatives said Landsberry, 45, was the kind of teacher who would have tried to stop the attack.

"It doesn't surprise anybody that that's what Michael would do," Chanda Landsberry said of her brother-in-law. "It doesn't feel real. It's totally surreal to have it happen."

Kyle Nucum, 13, told the Reno Gazette-Journal that he and several students were near the basketball court when they heard a loud pop. "Everybody was screaming," he said.

Kyle said he saw a student point a gun at a teacher who had ordered the student to put the weapon down. "And then the student fired a shot at the teacher. The teacher fell, and everybody ran away," he said.

Four or five more shots were heard as students fled across a field to a nearby house to get away, Kyle said.

Sparks Mayor Geno Martini said late Monday that there still was no indication of the shooter's motive, but that the boy shot the two students before being confronted by Landsberry. Martini described Landsberry as a "well-liked teacher by students and faculty" who had served in the Nevada Air National Guard and had done two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

"This happens in other places but you never expect it to happen in your city, especially in a safe family town," said Martini, who has lived in Sparks all of his life.

Dale Lundin, site facilities coordinator at the school, said Monday was "a very scary morning."

"I was in the building ... a few minutes before the entry bell rang, and then there was a lot of commotion going on out in the hallway," he said. "I stepped into the hallway, heard a couple of gun shots."

After seeing that the hall was clear, Lundin went into his office and locked the door.

"I could hear the police out in the hallway, but we're trained to not open the door or go out until it's clear," he said. "The staff and the students both did a very good job because we've gone through these 'code reds' before.

"You never really think that it's going to happen at your place of work, or in this case, your school. When it does happen, it kind of puts you in shock."

The entire shooting episode lasted only a few minutes, with the first calls coming in to authorities at 7:16 a.m., police said.

"Law enforcement officers were on the scene in less than three minutes from the first calls," Mike Mieras, chief of police with the Washoe County School District, said at a news conference.

But by then, it was over.

Classes were immediately canceled, and the school will stay closed the remainder of this week, district officials said.

"We know this is a difficult time for all of us, but one of the things that I love about this community is we're a family," said Pedro Martinez, superintendent of the Washoe County School District. "We'll have to mourn together and we'll have to heal together.

"My condolences to our fallen hero," he said of Landsberry.

Brenda Mena and Isis Lopez, seventh-graders at Sparks Middle School, attended a district-sponsored counseling session Monday night.

Brenda said they were there "to get closure" after a day full of shock.

"They say that school's supposed to be safe," Brenda said.

"I still can't believe it," Isis said.

Neither girl had Landsberry as a teacher, but they said he was a recognizable figure, in part, they said, because of his bald head.

Brenda said Landsberry would be chatty in the halls, and students called him "Batman."

"He was not just a teacher," Isis said. "He's more like a friend, encouraging us to do our best."

The morning, Brenda said, was "intense — to walk into school and see all these people running." Now, she said, there were "crazy rumors" on Facebook, with people having heated disagreements on the latest developments.

"There's a lot of confusion," Brenda said. Isis agreed, adding she felt "overwhelmed" by the day.

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