September 2, 1997 in Idaho

Hero In Moses Lake Classroom Shootings To Testify This Week Prosecution Likely To Rest Loukaitis Case Wednesday

Peggy Andersen Associated Press
 

The trial of Barry Loukaitis, who is pleading insanity in the Moses Lake classroom killings of three people, resumes Tuesday after a four-day break, with prosecutors close to resting their case.

The case against Loukaitis likely will be completed Wednesday, Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell says.

The defense case will follow, and will mark the introduction of expert witnesses to testify about Loukaitis’ mental state on the day of the shootings. The prosecution will counter with experts of its own.

Among witnesses still to be called by the state is teacher Jon Lane, the hero of the brief and bloody siege at Frontier Junior High on Feb. 2, 1996.

Loukaitis, 16, is pleading innocent by reason of insanity to three counts of aggravated first-degree murder. He was 14 at the time, but is charged as an adult on those counts and with attempted murder, second-degree assault and 16 counts of kidnapping. He could face life in prison if convicted.

The case is being heard by a King County Superior Court jury due to concerns that media coverage would make it impossible to find an impartial jury in Grant County, about 130 miles east.

Most of the witnesses since testimony began Aug. 25 have been young people who were in Leona Caires’ fifth-period algebra class. Casually clad, with their parents in the courtroom, the teenagers recounted the nightmare as they remember it - often with remarkable self-possession.

Lane figured in every account.

Loukaitis burst into the classroom dressed like a bad guy from a Clint Eastwood movie: black hat, long black trench coat, black pants and cowboy boots.

He immediately shouldered his lever-action rifle and systematically shot the first three students in the row closest to the door. Manuel Vela and Arnold Fritz, 14, were mortally wounded. Natalie Hintz, 13, was critically wounded. When Caires approached him, saying, “No, no, Barry,” Loukaitis shot her as well.

As the rest of the class began to realize what was happening - some thought the sound was fireworks, others thought the attack was some sort of drill or a bad joke or a play - Loukaitis withdrew to the corner by the door, sheltered by a chest-high computer desk.

Lane, a physical-education teacher and coach who had heard the shots from his classroom down the hall, then ran into the room and took shelter on the far side of Caires’ desk.

He persuaded Loukaitis to release Hintz, who was screaming for help, and a student with diabetes.

He and student Paul Uhl then persuaded their captor to allow them to take Fritz into the hall, where he might have a chance at survival.

The boy died on the operating table at a nearby hospital.

Loukaitis then reorganized the classroom, shifting the students to two rows against its back wall. When police called in to him from the hall outside, he told them he needed 10 more minutes “to finish my plan,” said Erin Wenz, 15, in testimony Thursday.

“If you don’t shut up, I’m going to shoot more people,” the girl recalled Loukaitis saying.

“They shut up after that,” she said.

Loukaitis then covered the barrel of his rifle with a plastic bag, secured it with a rubber band, and told Lane to come toward him.

He ordered the teacher to put the barrel in his mouth, saying he needed a hostage as protection against police snipers he feared were outside.

“I’m not going to do that, Barry,” several students quoted Lane as saying.

Loukaitis ordered him to do it, again threatening to shoot more people unless Lane did as he was told.

Lane grasped the barrel as if he was going to follow Loukaitis’ orders, Wenz said - but instead grabbed the gun and used it to pin the boy against the wall.

“Mr. Lane told everybody in class to run! Run! Run!” Wenz told the court.

After the students streamed out of the classroom, the police officers went in.

“We couldn’t get in till they were out,” Sgt. Richard M. Keller told the jury Thursday.

Someone yelled, “He’s got him! He’s got him!” Keller said.

He said he jerked the rifle out of Loukaitis’ hands. Police also took two handguns and two belts filled with ammunition from the boy. They then began collecting evidence from the blood-spattered classroom.

At the police station, Loukaitis was placed in a holding cell and strip-searched. He did not flinch during the body search, Keller said.

Loukaitis seemed calm and emotionally “flat-lined,” he said.

“Like nothing had happened?” defense attorney Mike Frost asked.

“Yes, sir,” Keller said.

When he was alone, the sergeant said, Loukaitis grabbed a blanket that was in the cell, “pulled it over his head, rolled into a ball and stayed there.”

The boy went to sleep, Keller said. It was about 2:30 p.m.

MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition.

Cut in the Spokane edition.

Get stories like this in a free daily email


Please keep it civil. Don't post comments that are obscene, defamatory, threatening, off-topic, an infringement of copyright or an invasion of privacy. Read our forum standards and community guidelines.

You must be logged in to post comments. Please log in here or click the comment box below for options.

comments powered by Disqus