SPARKS, Nev. - A U.S. middle school teacher who served two tours with the National Guard in Afghanistan was being hailed as a hero for trying to protect students from a shooting witnessed by up to 30 children.
Police said a Sparks Middle School student was the lone gunman who injured two young classmates, killed himself and took the life of the 8th-grade math teacher who tried to stop the rampage, 45-year-old Michael Landsberry.
"We have a lot of heroes today, including our children ... and our fallen hero, an amazing teacher," Washoe County School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez said.
It was no shock to family members that Landsberry — a married military veteran with two stepdaughters — would take a bullet.
"To hear that he was trying to stop that is not surprising by any means," said Chanda Landsberry, his sister-in-law. She added his life could be summed up by his love of family, his students and his country.
On his school website, Michael Landsberry posted a picture of a brown bear and took on a tough-love tone, telling students, "I have one classroom rule and it is very simple: 'Thou Shall Not Annoy Mr. L.'"
Sparks Mayor Geno Martini said Landsberry served two tours in Afghanistan with the Nevada National Guard and was well known in the school community.
"He proudly served his country and was proudly defending the students at his school," he said.
Sparks, a city of 90,000 that sprung out of the railway industry, lies just east of Reno. Students were filing off buses and reuniting with friends after a weeklong vacation when the pop of gunfire shattered the morning calm. Children fled for their lives before the first bell rang.
Authorities did not provide a motive for the shooting, and it's not known where the boy got the gun. The two 12-year-old wounded students were listed in stable condition. One was shot in the shoulder, and the other in the abdomen.
Parents clung to their teary-eyed children at an evacuation centre, while the community struggled to make sense of the latest episode of schoolyard violence to rock the nation less than a year after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
Investigators were still trying to piece together the chain of events that began around 7:15 a.m. Monday, 15 minutes before classes were to begin for 700 students in the 7th and 8th grades.
"The best description is chaos," Reno Deputy Police Chief Tom Robinson said. "It's too early to say whether he was targeting people or going on an indiscriminate shooting spree."
The mayor also praised the quick response from law officers who arrived at the scene within 3 minutes of the initial 911 calls to find the gunman with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Students from the middle school and neighbouring elementary school were evacuated to the nearby high school, and classes were cancelled. The middle school will remain closed for the week along with an adjacent elementary school.
The violence erupted nearly a year after a gunman horrified the nation by opening fire in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, leaving 26 dead. The Dec. 14 shooting ignited debate over how best to protect U.S. schools and whether armed teachers should be part of that equation.
Associated Press writer Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York City contributed to this report.
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