WALPOLE, N.H. — A teen who shot himself in the face in a crowded elementary school cafeteria in southwestern New Hampshire had residents Saturday asking how he got a gun into school and expressing concern for his classmates.
The 14-year-old, identified by a relative and fellow students as Hunter Mack, was hospitalized after shooting himself around 11 a.m. Friday at Walpole Elementary, officials said. Police locked down the school for several hours, but no one else was injured.
He might have been upset about a “relationship issue” with a girl, Cheshire County Attorney Peter Heed told The Associated Press.
“It clearly involved a relationship issue; I think that is fair to say,” Heed said.
The boy was in serious condition in intensive care Friday. Hospital officials would not confirm he had been taken there and family members did not return messages seeking an update on his condition Saturday.
Heed said investigators will interview students, staff and teachers to try to determine how the boy got the gun and how he got it into school. He declined to say what type of gun the boy used.
The shooting “appears to be self-inflicted, and now the focus is on what happened, why it happened, how he got the gun,” Heed said.
The shooting alarmed residents. On Saturday, people milled through the heart of downtown Walpole, a town of about 3,000 several miles from the Vermont state line.
“There was a pall over this town yesterday,” said Max Imhoff, who lives in Walpole. “Everybody was just walking around with long faces.”
Meredith O’Neil, 24, a French teacher in nearby Saxton’s River, said she happened to be driving by the school shortly after the shooting. She described seeing police cars and parents, mouths covered in disbelief.
When she learned what happened, one of her first thoughts, she said, was of the students who witnessed the shooting and how they will process what they saw.
“It’s a hard realization thinking about the fragility of life,” she said. “It’s so hard to understand what happened and why it happened.”
Mack had been passing notes during the week saying he was depressed, but it wasn’t clear why, Nick Phillips, an eighth-grader in Mack’s homeroom, has said.
Susan Parry of Claremont said she hoped some good could come out of the shooting.
“We need to teach children that when your friends are talking about suicide to tell a trusted adult,” she said. “We need to all use this as an educational opportunity.”
About a dozen or so vehicles were in the parking lot of the elementary school Saturday, where counselors were available. School will go on as scheduled Monday, said Superintendent Debra Livingston, but the students’ needs would change that as necessary.
“This is a very tender time for us,” she said. “We’re a tight-knit school.”
A retired teacher concurred, saying he couldn’t imagine such violence at the school, which he called “the ideal place to teach.”
“I was just shocked,” said Bill Perron, 66, who taught sixth-grade math and science at Walpole Elementary until he retired in 2002. “I just can’t imagine what the parents of those kids are going through.”
He said his granddaughter was in the cafeteria during the shooting, but said she was doing OK.
The whys were on John Mills’ mind Saturday as he visited his daughter, who works in downtown Walpole.
“How does a kid get a gun into school?” he said. “How can this happen?”