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Police: Santa Fe suspect confesses

The Washington Post
May 19. 2018 8:14PM

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the suspect in the Santa Fe High School shooting is shown in this booking photo at the Galveston County Jail, released by the Galveston County Sheriff?s Office in Texas, U.S., May 18, 2018. Courtesy Galveston County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. 



SANTA FE, Texas - This time, it happened during first period.

The day after a student went on a shooting rampage at a Texas high school, a Houston-area community grappled with a horrific reality that has unfolded in so many other places across the nation.

On Friday morning, a 17-year-old student armed with a shotgun and a pistol stormed Santa Fe High School, about 30 miles southeast of Houston, and opened fire in an art class, officials said.

He killed at least 10 people and wounded 10 others, including a school resource officer who was left in critical condition, police said, before surrendering to the officers who confronted him.

Of those killed, eight were students and two were teachers, Santa Fe Independent School District Superintendent Leigh Wall said in a letter to parents.

"Our community has suffered a terrible tragedy," Wall wrote. "We are all feeling the overwhelming grief of this horrific event."

Santa Fe High School became the latest scene of carnage in what has become a national epidemic of mass shootings. For the second time in the past three months, the victims were children and their teachers.

Isabelle Laymance, 15, was in art class, drawing geometric shapes, when she heard gunshots. She froze for a moment, then she ran to a back door leading to a patio, but it was locked. She and seven other students barricaded themselves in a supply closet that connected two art classrooms. She lay on the floor and called police, and then called her mother, whispering "I love you" while holding a friend's hand. They shushed each other, hoping to avoid detection.

The trench coat-clad gunman - whom police identified as student Dimitrios Pagourtzis - came into the first art classroom and began shooting. He knew students were hiding in the supply closet, Isabelle said.

"He said, 'Surprise,' and then he started shooting, and he killed one or two people. And he shot a girl in the leg. In the closet. He shot through the window," she said. "We blocked the doors with ceramic makers, and he kept on trying to get in and he kept on shooting inside the closet."

She called police three times over the course of 30 terrifying minutes. A police dispatcher told her to be quiet and assured her that help was on the way, she said.

The gunman kept shooting, cursing and yelling. He shot a police officer who approached, then engaged other officers in discussion, offering to surrender.

"He kept saying 'If I come out, don't shoot me.' They didn't shoot him; they just put him in handcuffs," she said.

Pagourtzis, whom students described as a quiet loner, was held Friday without bond at the Galveston County jail, charged with capital murder and aggravated assault on a peace officer. It was unclear what motivated the attack, as authorities said it came without any obvious warning.

Pagourtzis made his first court appearance Friday evening, a little more than 10 hours after the massacre. He spoke quietly, saying, "Yes, sir," when asked if he wanted a court-appointed attorney. After the brief hearing, Pagourtzis was led away.

Police said Pagourtzis gave a statement admitting responsibility for the shooting, according to a probable-cause affidavit filed in court. Pagourtzis told police that he went into the school wearing a trench coat and wielding two guns, intent on killing people.

The affidavit, which identifies him as Dimitrios Pagourtzis Jr., states that the 17-year-old told police that "he did not shoot students he did like so he could have his story told."

The two guns used in the shooting belong to Pagourtzis' father, according to Gov. Greg Abbott, who said it was unclear if the father knew his son had taken them. Unlike many other mass shootings carried out with high-powered rifles such as the AR-15, this one, authorities said, included relatively common weapons.

Police said they also found explosive devices inside the school and at locations off campus.

Authorities said they also were scrutinizing two other potential suspects in the shooting. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said officials questioned another student, described as "a person of interest." Abbott said police also hoped to speak with a third person who he said could have "certain information," though he did not elaborate.

The first police officer to confront the shooter was school safety officer John Barnes, a retired Houston police officer who, according to former Houston colleague Capt. Jim Dale, joined the Santa Fe Independent School District police force because he wanted a less-stressful job.

Barnes was shot in both arms, Dale said. A second Santa Fe ISD officer arrived, pulled Barnes to safety and applied a tourniquet. A third officer, a state trooper, also engaged the gunman, according to a state police official.

Officials have not yet provided a timeline showing how long it took to respond to the active-shooter emergency calls.

Barnes was taken by helicopter to the trauma center at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where he was in danger of "bleeding out" when he arrived, chief medical officer Gulshan Sharma told reporters. Dale, the Houston police captain, said many officers descended upon the hospital to show their support and that the family is in good spirits after hearing from doctors that Barnes' injuries probably were not fatal.

Santa Fe High School, home of the Indians, had won a statewide award for its safety program. As an ominous precursor to Friday's shooting, the school had experienced a false alarm about an active shooter in February, an event that attracted a massive emergency response and the chaotic arrival of fearful parents.

Many of the 1,400 students had staged a walkout April 20 as part of a nationwide school shootings protest, part of a grass-roots movement among young Americans in the wake of the February massacre of 17 students and staffers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. One sign carried by Santa Fe students during their April protest: "#NeverAgain."

Four Fridays later, their school was attacked.

Gage Slaughter, 17, said he was sitting in his Advanced Placement history class when the shooting started. When he heard the gunshots, he thought - as is so often the case in mass shootings - that it was just firecrackers. Someone pulled a fire alarm, he said, and everyone went outside. Then a coach and some teachers told the students to start running.

"There were people who were starting to cry," he said. "I didn't know what was going on until I was down the road a little ways and I heard one of the teachers saying it was a school shooter."

In the hours that followed, heavily armed officers in tactical gear surrounded the school. Authorities said they found explosives in the high school and in surrounding areas, and put out warnings on social media for people to avoid touching anything unfamiliar.

Parents were picking up their children early from other schools in the area as they reeled from the horror that had come to their community.

"I just need to cuddle [my] baby girl," said Catharine Lindsey, a parent who lives nearby and said she could hear the rescue helicopters from her home. "Ever since Parkland, I've had to tell my 13-year-old daughter to 'not be a hero, to hide and stay safe with teacher' if something like this happens, because she's the type who would try and talk the shooter down."

This was the 16th school shooting so far this year, according to a Washington Post analysis. That's the highest number at this point in any year since 1999, the year of the Columbine High massacre. The Post's analysis found that since 1999, shootings during school hours have killed at least 141 children, educators and other people, with another 284 injured.

There was limited solid information about the victims at Santa Fe High in the hours after the shooting.

The Embassy of Pakistan confirmed Friday evening that Sabika Sheikh, a Pakistani exchange student, was killed in the attack.

Cynthia Tisdale, 63, a substitute teacher at Santa Fe High School, died in the shootings there, her family confirmed Friday. Tisdale worked at the school frequently, her son Recie Tisdale said.

"She started substitute teaching because she loved to help children," he said. "She didn't have to do it. She did it because she loved it."

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Reported by Brittney Martin, Mark Berman, Joel Achenbach and Amy B. Wang.


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