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Taft classroom shooting sparks debate on Newtown, gun control

January 11, 2013 |  3:21 am

PHOTOS: Shooting at Taft Union High School

The classroom shooting at Taft Union High School that left a 16-year-old boy in critical condition prompted comparisons to the violence in Newtown, Conn., and sparked new debate about gun violence.

In a statement denouncing the gun violence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said her father had attended the school.

"How many more shootings must there be in America before we come to the realization that guns and grievances do not belong together?" she said in the statement.

PHOTOS: Shooting at Taft Union High School

State Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield) released a statement saying: "Violence directed at our children and teachers in schools is unacceptable. Not more than a month ago, the nation turned its attention to the horrific violence that occurred in Newtown. As a local resident and community member, elected official and former educator, I know Taft well. It's a community also made up of proud and hard-working residents who send their children to schools to learn."

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 him,” Hayden told The Times. She said the boy allegedly said his brother would be the first victim.

After shooting the classmate, the suspect, 16,  tried to shoot a second boy and missed before an unarmed science teacher was able to talk him down, police said.

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.

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,” said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood.

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.

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.

Two Taft police units, responding to numerous 911 calls, took about a minute to get to the school. Officers arrived at the classroom to find Heber with the shooter, whom he had disarmed. Youngblood described Heber as distraught after the incident; the teacher later sent a text message to his mother to say he was OK, said his father, David Heber.

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-- Ann M. Simmons in Taft, and Nicole Santa Cruz and Kate Mather in Los Angeles

Photo: Jacob Jackson, 15, hugs his mother, Mary Jackson, 36, as grandmother Sandy Jackson, 57, looks on. Parents spent hours waiting for their children to be released from Taft Union High School in Kern County on Thursday morning after a shooting. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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