A sophomore boy brought a rifle and a handgun to Freeman High School just as classes were starting Wednesday morning, killing one student and seriously injuring three others, according to witnesses and investigators.
Numerous students, including several who witnessed the shooting, identified the shooter as Caleb Sharpe. They said he rode a bus to school Wednesday with the guns stashed in a duffel bag.
Witnesses described a bloody, chaotic scene in a second-floor hallway just outside a biology classroom.
“I was putting my backpack away and I heard a loud pop, and I turned around. He was walking around,” said Elisa Vigil, a 14-year-old freshman. “He had his pistol. His face was completely passive. He shot someone in the head. I crouched down in the hall. I looked up and a girl screamed, ‘Help me, help me, help me.’ The hall was empty. She was shot in the back. I looked to my right, and there was a boy and he was shot in the head.”
The shooting killed one teenage boy, Sam Strahan, and sent three teenage girls to the emergency room at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. They are Emma Nees, Jordyn Goldsmith and Gracie Jensen.
Hospital officials said all three patients were in stable condition and one was expected to undergo surgery on Wednesday. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, there had been conflicting reports about the number of people injured.
Freeman High School serves more than 300 students southeast of Spokane. The shooting began shortly after 10 a.m. and lasted only about a minute, prompting lockdowns at dozens of schools in neighboring districts, as well as a massive response by local, state and federal agencies.
Authorities did not name the shooter, but Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said at an afternoon news conference that the sole suspect was being held in the county’s juvenile detention center. Numerous students identified the shooter as Sharpe.
After law enforcement officials interviewed more than 100 people, a motive for the shooting started to come into focus.
“It sounds like a case of a bullying type of situation,” Knezovich said, without elaborating.
The shooter’s first gun jammed before he pulled out the second one, and another student approached him to try to intervene. That student is believed to be Strahan; authorities did not identify the victims by name.
“That student was shot, and that student did not survive,” Knezovich said.
Witnesses said a school custodian approached and tackled Sharpe. Knezovich said “the individual was already disabled” by the time a school resource deputy, who had been at the neighboring middle school, arrived at the scene. Deputies made the arrest without firing a shot, he said.
“We send our prayers out to the mother whose student is not coming home today,” he said.
Teacher led first aid
Barratt Moland, 15, of Valleyford said he was at his lockers before the first period. He had just stepped into his math class when he heard what he thought was a balloon popping.
“Then more shots followed so I hit the deck,” Moland said. “I dove underneath the desk.”
Students rushed into the room as teacher Marty Jessett tried to close the door and blinds.
“When people came in, I noticed one of them had blood on them,” Moland said. “That was Emma Nees. She was hit in the lower abdomen. She didn’t even notice it for a second. She said it only grazed her.”
But Moland said the teacher noticed that Nees, a freshman, had both entrance and exit wounds. He grabbed some athletic tape and marked both with an X.
“He said, ‘Barratt, put on these gloves,’” Moland said. “I applied pressure to her wound. She actually handled it surprisingly well. I was at a loss for words. I didn’t even know if I was applying pressure correctly.”
When emergency crews arrived for Nees, the students were led out the hallway and then into the biology room. Outside the room lay a body. Moland believed it was Strahan.
“I see things happen on national news. Then it just happened a couple hours ago,” Moland said. “That’s insane.”
Moland said he’s known Strahan and Sharpe for several years, and he believed the two were friends.
“I was not that close with (Strahan),” Moland said. “But I thought they hung out like every weekend.”
Suspect planned to do ‘something stupid’
Liam Marshall, 15, said he rode the bus Wednesday with Caleb Sharpe, who was listening to music on headphones. Sharpe carried a duffel bag that apparently contained an AR-15 rifle and a handgun.
Marshall had just arrived at his first-period English class when he heard a bang in the hallway, about two rooms away.
“I heard one gunshot,” Marshall said. “Me and my friends were just laughing, thinking that someone was being crazy. That’s when I heard two others. We had no clue what was going on.”
Chaos ensued as Marshall and other students were locked down in place.
“Someone poked out the window and screamed to get out and lock the doors,” he said. “We saw three people sprinting.”
Some 30 minutes later, school officials and sheriff’s deputies evacuated Marshall and his fellow students.
“They called all our names and asked if anybody was unsafe. They did a head count and we were led out single file to the football field,” Marshall said. “When we came out of the classroom, someone told us the shooter was Caleb and everybody was saying (the victim) was Sam.”
Marshall said teacher John Hays rushed into the hallway and applied pressure to Strahan’s head wound but was unable to save him.
Marshall and Strahan were friends in both math and science classes this past year.
“He was really funny, and he likes to make lots of jokes,” Marshall said. “He just lost his father this past summer. I thought he was a lot wiser (after his father died). He didn’t do stuff like he used to do. But, he was still funny.”
Marshall said he remembers talking to Sharpe only once, even though they shared a second-period class, which they didn’t make it to on Wednesday.
“He’s really quiet,” Marshall said.
Michael Harper, 15, said he was a close friend of Sharpe’s.
“He was weird,” Harper said. “And he loved the show ‘Breaking Bad.’ He never really seemed like that person who had issues. He was always nice and funny and weird.”
But there were warning signs. Harper said Sharpe recently had become obsessed with school shooting documentaries, and his YouTube account shows Sharpe and his friends acting out violent scenarios with replica BB guns.
And weeks earlier, around the time classes started, Sharpe had written notes to some of his friends indicating he planned to do “something stupid,” Harper said.
They weren’t sure if the notes should be taken seriously, but one friend passed one of the notes to a counselor, Harper said.
‘Mom, there are gunshots’
As the first reports of the shooting began to surface, distraught parents raced to the cluster of buildings that are Freeman’s elementary, middle and high schools.
Among those parents were Rondielle and Chris Frye, who immediately left their jobs to get to the school.
“My daughter actually called me because she was out at her car and she heard gunshots,” said Rondielle Frye.
She told her daughter: “Run!”
Chris Frye drove as quickly as he could to get to the scene.
“I was about ready to have a panic attack,” he said. “I was following the cops damn fast.”
Cheryl Moser said her son, a freshman, called her from a classroom on the second floor after hearing shots fired.
“He called me and said, ‘Mom, there are gunshots.’ He sounded so scared. I’ve never heard him like that,” Moser said. “You never think about something happening like this at a small school.”
Nate Johnson said his son, also a freshman, called him clearly in tears. Johnson soon talked to his daughter, a senior, who told him that the shooting occurred at least partly in the hallway.
Just after the shooting, Amie Baxter described what she saw and heard while being held in a multipurpose room in the elementary school with about 30 other people. Police and other first responders walked around outside, some carrying gurneys and shouting information at one another, she said.
Baxter, whose two daughters attend the middle school, said in a phone call that children were running into buildings and an alarm was sounding when she drove into the school area at about 10:15 a.m. Classes were supposed to start soon because it was a “late start” day, Baxter said.
“They did a modified lockdown drill yesterday,” she said. “I thought it was weird because they wouldn’t do (a drill) two days in a row.”
The shooting also took a personal toll on some first responders, including Trooper Jeff Sevigney, the Washington State Patrol’s public information officer for Eastern Washington.
Sevigney tweeted Wednesday evening: “Worst day in my LE career. To respond to your own kids school for active shooter. Prayers for everyone involved.”
‘It’s going to be someone we know’
Rockford Mayor Carrie Roecks said the community is devastated by the shooting. She said she had never imagined something like it happening at a small school like Freeman, where practically everyone knows one another.
“What has happened here is going to affect every child in the district in one form or another,” said Roecks, whose grandchildren attend Freeman Elementary School. “I hope everyone stays as positive as we can be and the community just surrounds itself with a lot of love because we’re going to need it.”
All classes in the Freeman School District are canceled Thursday.
Before the victims’ identities were known, Roecks said, “Not knowing who is affected is hard. It doesn’t matter who it is because it’s going to be someone we know.”
This story reported and written by S-R reporters Chad Sokol, Jonathan Glover, Eli Francovich, Thomas Clouse, Nina Culver and Nick Deshais.