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Taft classroom shooting: Stunned students get grief counseling

January 11, 2013 | 10:02 am

PHOTOS: Shooting at Taft Union High School

The investigation into a shooting at Taft Union High School in Kern County that critically wounded a 16-year-old student continued Friday as officials announced grief counselors were available on campus.

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.

PHOTOS: Shooting at Taft Union High School

The suspect remained in custody Friday and the victim is in critical but stable condition. He might possibly undergo more surgery Friday, said Ray Pruitt, public information officer for the Kern County Sheriff's Department.

Classes were suspended at Taft Union High School on Friday, but the school remained open for students and staff who are seeking grief counseling.

"Counselors will be there to talk to people," Pruitt said.

Students will also be allowed to pick up bags and belongings they left behind when they were evacuated Friday.

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.

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-- Ann Simmons in Taft

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

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