PERRY HALL, Md. — A 15-year-old student opened fire on the first day of classes Monday at a Baltimore County high school, getting off two shots and wounding a classmate before being rushed by teachers, authorities said.
Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson said at a news conference that officers do not believe the victim, a 17-year-old male, was targeted by the shooter, a 15-year-old who is also a student at Perry Hall High School. A male suspect was taken into custody after the shooting, and police took the weapon, although police would not say what kind of gun it was.
Johnson said at about 10:45 a.m., a student walked into the cafeteria and pulled out a gun. He fired one shot before being grabbed by teachers, and then another shot went off as teachers grabbed him, Johnson said.
Johnson said the suspect acted alone. He did not answer numerous questions from reporters about a motive.
Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said it was too early to know what charges the shooter would face.
Jordan Coates, a 17-year-old student who was in the cafeteria at the time of the shooting, said the student used a shotgun. Coates said he watched teachers, including guidance counselor Jesse Wasmer, pin the student against a vending machine.
“My back was to the door. I heard a pop and thought it was a bag because people do that, but then I heard another one,” Coates told The Associated Press. “And I turned around and a teacher had a kid pinned up against the vending machine, and I saw the barrel, and another shot goes off and people just start running.”
Coates credited Wasmer with helping to stop the shooting, and numerous students took to Twitter to thank him.
“He grabbed the gun from the kid and got him” until other teachers came over, Coates said.
Kelsey Long, a junior at Perry Hall who was in the cafeteria, said she also thought the first gunshot was someone popping a bag.
“But then we heard it again and again and everyone started screaming and ran out to the front of the school,” Long told The Associated Press in a Twitter message.
Detectives were interviewing the suspected shooter Monday afternoon, Baltimore County police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said. Officers spent several hours searching the school and found no other weapons or suspicious materials, she said.
Although no one other than the 17-year-old was shot, several people suffered cuts and bruises in the ensuing melee, Armacost said.
“We have some heroic and brave faculty members,” Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance said. “They responded very quickly to minimize damage.”
Seth Warner, a youth pastor at the Faith Fellowship Church across from the high school who graduated in 1999 with Wasmer, said he was not surprised to hear that the guidance counselor had intervened. He described Wasmer as “not big, but built.”
“I knew that if anyone could take him down, it would be Jesse,” Warner said.
The school was evacuated, and students were escorted to a nearby shopping center and middle school.
Perry Hall is a middle-class community along the Interstate 95 corridor, northeast of Baltimore city. The school is the largest in the county, with 2,200 students.
County Councilman David Marks, who lives next door to the school, said he had received dozens of phone calls and text messages from worried parents and residents.
“This is a very comfortable, very safe community, and it’s an excellent high school,” said Marks, who graduated from Perry Hall. “I think this is an aberration, but clearly one that is horrifying, particularly on the first day of school.”
Television coverage showed scores of police cars surrounding the school and parked on neighborhood streets. A group of officers with weapons drawn staked out a corner of the building, one of them lying prone on the ground and appearing to cover a particular area of the campus. Hundreds of students streamed away from the school.
Cathy Le, 15, said students were panicking as they tried to find out what was happening. They texted and called each other frantically as they were locked in their classrooms for more than an hour, she said.
At the scene, buses, emergency vehicles and parents in cars filled the roadway between the high school and the shopping center. There were obvious signs of relief displayed as parents found their children.
Kristin Kraus, whose son James attends the school, described hearing about the shooting as “absolute terror.” However, Kraus said, “within a couple of minutes he texted my husband that he was OK.”
Associated Press writer Ben Nuckols in Washington contributed to this report.