A teenage gunman went back into his school classroom Tuesday after shooting a fellow student multiple times just outside a Northern California high school, an attack that prompted an hours-long lockdown of more than 10,000 students and staffers in a complex with three schools, authorities said.
Using surveillance footage, officers tracked the 17-year-old shooter to a physical education classroom at Ridgway High School in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, after a less than two-hour manhunt. They arrested him on suspicion of attempted murder.
Police Capt. John Cregan said authorities were still looking for the shooter’s handgun, which he put into a backpack and handed off to someone in a vehicle. He then went to the nearest classroom, following the school’s lockdown protocol.
The shooter was “behaving normally,” and the teacher and other students didn’t realize he carried out the violence, Cregan said.
“It’s disturbing to see that he was able to go right around to his normal business,” Cregan told The Associated Press. “It’s a scary situation.”
Police do not yet know if the person who took the backpack and drove away knew a gun was inside.
Authorities said the two students argued before the shooting and believe the violence was isolated. The victim, a 16-year-old boy, was in stable condition after being shot twice in the upper body on the sidewalk outside the high school shortly before second period began.
Witnesses told police that the shooter fired three to four rounds before fleeing, authorities said.
The victim fell down before getting up to run to a vehicle, which dropped him off at a hospital, Cregan said. Dozens of students were in the area at the time.
Authorities initially said the shooter had an accomplice, but Cregan said the person was released after police determined he was only a bystander. Detectives were working to figure out if the shooting was gang-related, he said.
Parents described the panic of getting text messages from their kids and not knowing if they were safe. One mother, Cherie Posluszny, said her 17-year-old daughter texted just after 9:40 a.m.
“Someone got shot,” the first message said, followed up a minute later by: “I love you.”
“Someone is at Ridgway,” read the next message. Then her daughter’s phone stopped working. She found a friend’s phone and her mother asked if she was OK.
“Not really. But I will be OK,” her daughter responded. The girl told her mother that she spent hours lying on the cold floor hiding behind a teacher’s desk with other students.
Posluszny said she worried about how this “new normal” was affecting children.
“This is becoming routine. It’s part of the culture now. These kids are also victims,” she said as she raced to the school.
Police said the shooting was originally reported on the Ridgway High campus just before 9 a.m. but later said it was on the sidewalk just outside the school, which does not have metal detectors.
It is part of a sprawling complex that also includes Santa Rosa High School, Santa Rosa Junior College, school district offices and athletic fields. The complex with thousands of students, teachers, administrators and others was locked down as a SWAT team searched for the gunman, Cregan said.
Santa Rosa police, who are getting help from the FBI in the investigation, lifted the lockdown around 11:30 a.m. following a “thorough sweep” of the schools.
School district officials referred questions to police but tweeted that “students are safe.”
Ridgway High, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) north of San Francisco, is an alternative continuation school for Santa Rosa High.