TACOMA – A teenage boy was shot to death Wednesday in a high school hallway as classes were about to resume after winter break. Police arrested a student found wandering nearby but were still trying to determine a motive.
The Pierce County medical examiner’s office identified the dead boy as Samnang Kok, 17. Kok was the father of a young boy, a relative said.
The arrested student was Douglas Chanthabouly, 18. According to Pierce County Jail booking records, he was booked for investigation of first-degree murder. Sheriff’s Detective Ed Troyer said the teen was on suicide watch, which is common in high-profile cases, and the Tacoma Police Department said he had no criminal record.
“It’s not a very fun situation, especially when I was right there,” Foss High School Principal Don Herbert said Wednesday. “What can you say? What can you do about it? I was 20 feet away. The only thing I could have done was taken the shot instead. But it happened very fast.”
The shooter and victim knew each other, but detectives did not immediately know a motive, Tacoma Police Chief Donald Ramsdell said. He said the arrested boy was cooperative.
Tacoma police said the shooting was not believed to be gang related or racially motivated.
No one else was hurt in the 7:30 a.m. shooting. About two hours later, a neighbor a few blocks from the school called police to say that someone matching the suspect’s description was in the area; officers arrested him without incident, Ramsdell said.
“Today we lost a nice young person in a Tacoma public school in an act of senseless violence,” Ramsdell said. “We’ll be working with the school district … so we can prevent this type of situation in the future.”
Kok’s sister, Lisa, told KING-TV of Seattle that he was the father of a little boy.
The 18-month-old boy “would always ask for his dad,” she said. “I don’t know what to tell him when he says that.”
An armed resource officer was on the scene within seconds and radioed police for help as teachers herded students into classrooms and the gymnasium, said Detective Chris Taylor. Three teams of about six officers, each armed with rifles, swept the school to ensure the gunman had left.
Two 15-year-old sophomores, Malcolm Clark and Josh Wilber, said they witnessed the shooting and were questioned by police afterward.
Clark and Wilber said three shots were fired. The shooter was about five feet from the victim and didn’t appear to target anyone else, the boys said.
“He got shot – bang – and he just fell,” Clark said. “He just froze and he fell backwards into the lockers.”
“He didn’t scream or nothing. He didn’t move when he hit the ground,” Wilber said.
The gunman fled through nearby double doors, Clark and Wilber said.
The school was locked down after the shooting. By about 8:30 a.m., police had secured the building and students were being sent home, Tacoma School District spokeswoman Pam Thompson said. Classes were canceled for the rest of the day, and the school was to reopen at 10 a.m. today.