December 11, 2004 in City

Lakeside High student dies after shooting self at school

Thomas Clouse Staff writer
 
Christopher Anderson/ photo

Lakeside High School student Ciara Dewey waits for her parents to pick her up outside the school Friday in Suncrest. Student Skyler Cullitan shot himself in the head in the school’s entryway Friday afternoon. “I just don’t understand why it happened,” Dewey said.
(Full-size photo)

A 16-year-old Lakeside High School junior died Friday evening, hours after shooting himself in the head with a handgun while standing in the school’s entryway, authorities said.

None of the teachers or 500 other students was injured or threatened, said Stevens County sheriff’s Capt. Mike George.

“It’s a very sad day for the high school students, faculty and, of course, his family,” George said after Skyler Cullitan, mortally wounded, was flown by helicopter to Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane.

A nursing supervisor confirmed that Cullitan died at 6:36 p.m.

Cullitan fired one shot about 1:25 p.m. in the school just off Highway 291 in Suncrest, about 14 miles northwest of Spokane. Immediately after the shooting, school officials placed the high school and the district’s three other schools in lockdown, said Michael Green, superintendent of the Nine Mile Falls School District.

Green also staged buses to take students away. “We really didn’t know the extent of the situation at that point,” Green said.

Neither did the Sheriff’s Office, George said.

“We got a call of a shooting here at the high school. Of course, it raised the blood pressure,” he said. “Then we got information that it was self-inflicted. It’s a very tragic situation.”

George said he didn’t know where Cullitan got the gun or what type it was, other than a handgun.

“Right now, we don’t have a lot of information. We’ll be investigating this for several days,” he said.

The Spokesman-Review does not name suicide victims unless they end their lives in a public manner, as Cullitan did.

Even before the helicopter took Cullitan away, frantic parents who had heard about the shooting – mostly by cell phone – flocked to the high school, only to be stopped near the entrance.

Shelly Toone, who has two daughters in the school, was at the Spokane County Public Safety Building when she overheard an alarming telephone conversation.

“I heard someone say, ‘Oh my God. Lakeside High School is in lockdown. There’s been a shooting,’ I ran about three stoplights to get here,” Toone said.

When she arrived at the school, the helicopter was still in the middle of the playing field.

“I had no idea what had happened. I tried to go across the field and go in the school,” Toone said. “But that didn’t work.”

Another parent, Laura Krieger, who has two sons in the school, said she, too, was frustrated by the lack of information coming from school officials. Krieger learned of the shooting from the pastor at preschool where she teaches.

“Of course your mind goes to Columbine immediately,” Krieger said. “I prayed all the way here. You don’t only just pray for your children, you pray for all of them.”

Like Toone, Krieger was forced to wait without any information about what was happening inside the school. After a few minutes, she looked up and saw her son, Kyle, walking toward her from the back of the school.

“He was in the portable classroom. He didn’t hear or see anything. He didn’t know what was going on,” Krieger said.

She ran up, hugged Kyle and cried.

“I couldn’t even describe that feeling,” Krieger said. “Relief is a small word. It just doesn’t do that feeling justice.”

Asked about the parents’ frustration in getting timely information, Green said school officials had other priorities.

“When we are dealing with a crisis situation, our first priority is the safety of the students on campus,” he said.

The school updated information on its crisis line four times so parents could call for updates, he said.

Inside the school, most students were in their classes when they heard over the intercom that they had been placed in lockdown, 14-year-old Justin Krieger said.

“Then we had a teacher come in and tell us that Skyler had shot himself,” said Krieger, who rides the bus to school with Cullitan. “I felt terrible. I didn’t know what to think.”

Toone said both of her daughters were friends with Cullitan.

“Every time I pulled up, he would stick his head in my window and hug me. He was very affectionate,” Shelly Toone said.

Other friends were struggling Friday evening to understand why Cullitan – then still alive – would shoot himself.

They described him as fun, outgoing and creative, someone who liked to get and give hugs.

Former girlfriend Alicia Fiorentino, a 16-year-old sophomore at Lakeside, was in class when she found out about Cullitan’s suicide attempt.

“They said on the intercom, ‘Please keep Skyler in your prayers,’ ” she said.

When Shelly Toone heard the boy who shot himself was Cullitan, “It broke my heart,” she said.

Toone and others said while Cullitan is outgoing, he has also struggled with anger, depression and frustration.

“The school knew it was coming,” Shelly Toone said. “He was crying out for help well into last year.”

Green wouldn’t comment when asked if Cullitan had attempted suicide before, left a note or had given school officials any warning.

All school events for Friday and the weekend were canceled. Counselors will be available at the school today at 9 a.m., Green said.

“I know the student, but I don’t know much about his social life,” Green said. “He’s a good kid. He’s a fun kid.”


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