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Taft classroom shooting: Police probe bullying, earlier threats

PHOTOS: Shooting at Taft Union High School

Authorities in Taft, Calif., are investigating reports that the teen who allegedly opened fire at Taft Union High School had threatened to kill students last year and had complained about being bullied.

A 16-year-old student was critically wounded by the shooter, who brought a 12-gauge shotgun onto campus Thursday morning and opened fire, authorities said. 

The assailant is a 16-year-old student who planned the attack Wednesday night and used a weapon owned by his brother, said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood. 

PHOTOS: Shooting at Taft Union High School

Angela Hayden, whose 16-year-old daughter attends Taft, said the suspected shooter allegedly threatened to kill her daughter and other students last year while they were on a school bus during a field trip to Universal Studios.

"He was telling everyone that he had a list of people who messed with him over the years and that he was going to kill them," Hayden told The Times.  She said the boy allegedly said his brother would be the first victim.

Hayden said her daughter complained about the incident to a vice principal and that the boy was suspended for several days. After the boy returned, Hayden said, she called the principal wanting to know why he was not permanently barred from campus. The principal declined to discuss the punishment, citing privacy concerns, according to Hayden.

“Everybody knew about this kid,” Hayden said.

Hayden said that her son attended Taft and that he was harassed by students there.

"Taft has a problem with bullies," Hayden said.

School officials could not be reached Thursday night for comment. But the Kern County Sheriff's Department said it was aware of the allegations.

"We're investigating that," Lt. Dana Albro told The Times.

The shooting stunned people in the small town southwest of Bakersfield.

Youngblood said the shooting occurred about 9 a.m. The assailant, who was not identified by police, is a student at the school and arrived late. He had apparently had some prior dealings with the student he targeted and wounded.

Authorities said the shooter came into class with the shotgun, spoke to the student, and shot two to four rounds at him, striking him once. He then addressed another student by name and fired, but missed. It was unclear when Heber was shot. Police said witnesses were distracted by the chaos and they could not say how many rounds had been fired.Police officers arrived after the teacher had disarmed the shooter, and took him into custody. They seized his firearm and about 20 extra rounds in his pocket, they said.

PHOTOS: Shooting at Taft Union High School

The teacher, Ryan Heber, was struck by a pellet round to the head but not seriously injured and declined treatment, authorities said.

“If it weren’t for this teacher and his quick response, we don’t know what would have happened,” Youngblood said.

Police said a school supervisor in the hallway, also unarmed, helped Heber distract the shooter. There were no security guards or police immediately on hand to help them: The school’s armed police officer was not on duty Thursday because he had been delayed by snow, authorities said.

The boy who was shot remained in surgery at Kern Medical Center on Thursday afternoon. Police described his condition as critical but stable. The other injured students included a girl who was close to the shooter as he fired; she was being treated at a local hospital for possible hearing damage. A third student received minor injuries, and may have tripped over tables, police said.

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Taft Union school shooting: Boy had 'intended targets,' police say

—Ann Simmons, Kate Mather and  Robert J. Lopez

Photo: Rescuers transport a student wounded in Thursday's shooting. Credit: Doug Keeler / Taft Midway Driller
 
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