A 14-year-old boy who warned last week that “something big’s going to happen” inserted earplugs, drew a gun and shot eight students as a prayer meeting ended in a high school lobby Monday.
Three girls were killed.
The boy, who had three spare clips of ammunition and four other guns, surrendered when Ben Strong - a pastor’s son and leader of the prayer circle - grabbed the teen after he stopped shooting.
Afterward, the boy told Heath High School Principal Bill Bond, “I’m sorry.”
“He acted just like he had been caught with some minor offense,” Bond said.
“Really, the main question is, why,” Sheriff Frank Augustus said. “He stated there was no personal vendetta against anyone. It was just a random shooting.”
Strong said the boy hung out with people who claimed to be atheists.
The teen, who was not identified because of his age, carried into school a .22-caliber handgun with three spare clips of ammunition, two rifles and two shotguns. He wrapped the rifles and shotguns in blankets and told curious classmates they were props for a science project.
The gunman warned friends in this western Kentucky community last week that “something big’s going to happen,” Bond said.
The principal said an informal prayer meeting of about 35 students ended at 7:40 a.m., with the shooter and about a dozen others standing nearby. He said the teen calmly inserted earplugs, then drew the pistol from a backpack.
“Only the first three shots could have been aimed,” Bond said. “After that, it was just as fast as he could pull the trigger. It was just random shooting.”
Ben Heady, a senior, said he was nearby when the shooting began.
“I hear gunshots, about 10 in a row, just bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,” he said. “People were just laying on the ground. People were screaming, running out of the hall.”
Kayce Steger, 15, died at a hospital about 45 minutes later. Jessica James, 17, died in surgery. Nichole Hadley, 14, died late Monday. Four other students were admitted to hospitals. An eighth wounded student was treated.
“I ran up to him and I just kind of pushed him against the wall,” said Strong, who was warned by the gunman not to be in the lobby Monday. “And he was, like, ‘I can’t believe I’d do this.’ Because he shot one of his friends who was just a few feet away.”
After the shooting, blood was spattered through the lobby of the 600-student school, and the victims’ books and clothing were strewn about.
The student was charged as a juvenile with murder, attempted murder and burglary. The prosecutor will seek to have him charged as an adult.
The principal described him as a “very intelligent young man” who had had “some minor problems” but had never been suspended from school.
The sheriff said the teen stole the pistol and at least some of the other guns in a burglary Thanksgiving Day. The owner of the guns didn’t realize they were missing until deputies contacted him after the shootings.
The principal credited Strong with preventing more bloodshed.
“He didn’t run. He just stood and talked to him,” Bond said. “He’s the one who told him to stop, stop. He’s the one who had the courage.”