Taft classroom shooting: Suspect had 'disturbing smile' during attack
Witnesses offered chilling descriptions Friday of the shooting at a high school in Taft, Calif. that left a 16-year-old boy critically wounded.
Police said they were looking into reports that the teen who allegedly opened fire at the school had threatened to kill students last year and had complained about being bullied. The shooter took 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.
"He had a kind of disturbing smile on his face. Kind of a smirk," one student told the Associated Press. "He didn't say anything. He just shot right away."
The victim suffered wounds to the chest and abdomen. Ruby Skinner, a doctor treating the boy, said he was critically injured and on life support.
"He came in very unstable," Skinner told the Bakersfield Californian. He "was taken immediately to the operating room with serious injuries to his chest and intra-abdominal area... He's a very lucky kid. These are very serious injuries, but he has youth on his side."
Meanwhile, officials announced grief counselors were available on campus Friday, the day after the shooting.
Classes were suspended at Taft Union High School on Friday, but the school remained open for students and staff who are seeking grief counseling.
Students will also be allowed to pick up bags and belongings they left behind when they were evacuated Thursday.
Angela Hayden, whose 16-year-old daughter attends Taft, said the shooting suspect 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.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.
Police said witnesses were distracted by the chaos and they could not say how many rounds had been fired. Police officers arrived after a teacher 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,” Youngblood said.
-- Ann Simmons in Taft and Richard Winton, Kate Mather and Nicole Santa Cruz in Los Angeles
Photo: Tyler Smith, 18, weeps after meeting her 15-year-old sister Paige Smith, who was stuck inside Taft Union High School in Kern County after a shooting Thursday. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times