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Bullying may have motivated Nevada school shooter

Students, parents and police in Sparks, Nev., struggle to understand why a boy killed a middle school teacher and wounded two other students. Some say he believed he had been bullied or taunted.

October 22, 2013|By Melanie Mason and David Zucchino
  • Michael Landsberry in a family photo. The math teacher and former Marine was killed in Monday’s school shooting in Sparks, Nev.
Michael Landsberry in a family photo. The math teacher and former Marine… (Reno Gazette-Journal )

SPARKS, Nev. — He was dressed like any other student at Sparks Middle School: standard khaki pants and a Sparks sweat shirt. He was tall for a middle schooler, with dark, spiked hair, and he held a Ruger 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun in his hand.

The 12-year-old boy pointed the weapon at about 30 terrified students huddled in a corner near an outdoor school basketball court early Monday. He locked eyes with eighth-grader Omar Lopez, who was nearby.

"You guys ruined my life, so I'm going to ruin yours," he told the group, Omar said.

The boy fired — not at the students but at a window, shattering the glass with two quick shots, witnesses said. He moved on, but he had already shot and killed a popular math teacher and wounded a student.

He shot and wounded another student before shooting himself fatally in the head, police said.

On Tuesday, students, parents and police struggled to comprehend the motives of the shooter, whom police declined to identify. The boy apparently believed he had been bullied or taunted, according to students interviewed here, but police said they could not confirm that.

When he said his life had been ruined, Omar said, "He looked like he was going to cry. He said it in an angry and crying voice."

A tearful girl who said she was a friend of the shooter said she had seen the bullying.

"Once I saw people push him in the hallway," said Margielle Stewart, an eighth-grader who came to a makeshift memorial for the teacher at the middle school Tuesday night.

The shooter "was really nice," she said. "He would always make a smile on your face."

But four students interviewed earlier described a harrowing scene Monday as the gunman ordered everyone to be quiet.

"He aims the gun at us and says, 'You guys talking, you guys talking,'" said Antonio Ochoa, an eighth-grader.

Several students shouted, "No, no, we're not talking. We're being quiet," Antonio said.

The students were trapped; they could not escape without crossing in front of the pointed gun.

"I was like, 'Please, don't,'" said Adrian Aguilera, an eighth-grader. "I felt like that was the last breath I would take."

"I thought he was going to kill me," Omar recalled. "Because when he said, 'I'll ruin yours,' in my mind, that ran through my head and I thought, oh, by ruining my life he was just going to kill me."

Moments earlier, Antonio was 10 to 20 feet from the gunman when Michael Landsberry, the math teacher some students had nicknamed "Batman" for his love of the comic book character, raised his hands and tried to block the shooter's path.

"Mr. Landsberry, he came running up to the kid and he said, 'Put the gun down.' And by then I started running, and behind me I heard another shot," Antonio said.

Mike Mieras, chief of police of the Washoe County School District, told reporters Tuesday that Landsberry had been shot in the chest after the first student was wounded.

"Mr. Landsberry calmly walked toward the shooter, putting his hands up in a motion to try to stop the individual's actions," Mieras said. "Mr. Landsberry's heroic actions, by stepping toward the shooter, allowed time for other students on that playground area to flee."

Lansberry, 45, had served in the Marine Corps, including two tours of duty in Afghanistan, and in the Nevada National Guard.

"A person like Mr. Landsberry cannot be replaced," school Supt. Pedro Martinez said. "He was a beloved teacher and father, a great role model, and an even better person. He will not be forgotten. He is truly a hero."

Martinez added: "This is the action of one student. Let's not forget it's a tragedy for that family as well."

Sparks Deputy Police Chief Tom Miller said police were withholding the shooter's identity out of respect for his family, which is cooperating with police.

Police said the crime scene had expanded to include the shooter's home, where he got the gun, and that there was a possibility his parents could face charges relating to the weapon. It is illegal in Nevada to knowingly let a child under 18 have access to a firearm, unless the child is accompanied by a parent, guardian or authorized adult, according to the website of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Police emphasized that all shots fired Monday were outside the school and that the gunman never went inside. They said that before-school safety procedures were in place, which kept some doors closed and prevented the shooter from entering crowded hallways. Police did not fire their weapons, authorities said.

Miller declined to answer questions about possible bullying of the shooter and said police did not know whether specific students were targeted.

"Everybody wants to know why. That's the big question," Miller said. "The answer is, we don't know right now. We are proactively trying to determine why."

The two wounded boys, both 12, are "stable and recovering," Miller said. The gunman shot one boy in the shoulder and the other in the abdomen shortly after arriving on school grounds about 7:15 a.m.

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