Jon Lane was teaching class last year at Frontier Junior High School when he heard children screaming and ran down the hall to see what was wrong.
When Lane burst through the door of Classroom 15 the afternoon of Feb. 2, 1996, he smelled gunsmoke in the air and saw students on the floor or frozen in their seats. He dived for cover near the teacher’s desk.
“The students were in sheer terror. They had a look of death on their face,” Lane told a packed courtroom here Thursday during the Barry Loukaitis triple-murder trial.
Lane, a former math and gym teacher, said he recognized the gunman, Loukaitis, then 14, right away.
“I knew it was my responsibility as the only adult in the classroom to do the best I could to take care of the situation.”
Two students, Arnold Fritz and Manuel Vela, were dying on the classroom floor. Natalie Hintz, 13, was screaming in pain from a wound to her arm. Algebra teacher Leona Caires lay dead beneath the chalkboard.
“I tried to collect myself,” Lane said. “I knew gunshots had been fired. I lay there; I felt my heart beating. I knew I better not do anything rash.”
His eyes fell on Caires.
“There was no doubt in my mind that she was dead. The eraser and marker pen were still in her hand. She obviously had not had time to react.”
Loukaitis told him to stand up, but Lane replied he couldn’t because he was too scared. Then Loukaitis threatened to kill more students. “He was very matter-of-fact, in control. He knew what he wanted me to do.
“I stood up.”
Lane started negotiating with Loukaitis to let him take first Hintz, then Fritz, out of the classroom. At first, Loukaitis refused to let Lane move Fritz. “He said, ‘Just let him die,”’ Lane said.
But the teacher persisted and Loukaitis let him drag Fritz out.
There was so much blood on the floor Lane needed two students to help him drag Fritz to the hallway. “We kept slipping.”
Each time, Loukaitis told him to come back into the classroom, and each time, Lane did, knowing he was facing a kid armed to the teeth who already had killed three people.
When he came back in the classroom, Loukaitis asked Lane to come closer, and fitted a plastic bag over the end of his rifle.
“He said he was going to get the situation over with and take a hostage,” the witness said.
Loukaitis ordered Lane to put the muzzle of the rifle in his mouth, but Lane refused. “I told him I was too scared, that the gun had gone off before and could again.”
As Loukaitis motioned him closer, Lane made his move. He pinned the boy to the wall and grabbed Loukaitis’ right hand, which was holding a high-powered rifle.
As Lane pressed Loukaitis to the wall, he yelled to the surviving students to get out of the classroom. Police ran in behind them.
After his testimony, the gray-haired, bespectacled Lane - now a middle school principal in Warden, Wash. - said he’s been called a hero but he really only did the right thing.
“I couldn’t have lived with myself if I didn’t. I’m a teacher; I take care of kids.”
Loukaitis, now 16, has confessed to the shootings but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He is being tried as an adult. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
If found not responsible for his actions, he would be confined and treated until a judge determines he is no longer dangerous.
Loukaitis is charged with three counts of aggravated first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, 16 counts of kidnapping, and second-degree assault.
Fritz, Caires and Vela never stood a chance, a forensic pathologist told the jury Thursday, as color pictures of the boys’ bodies were displayed.
Vela was shot just below the neck at such close range - less than two feet - that it left powder burns on his face.
Fritz’s heart, lungs and spine were ripped by a shot to the chest. Caires was killed instantly by a shot to the back that went all the way through her body.
As the pictures were displayed, showing the boys’ bodies ripped apart by bullets, one juror turned red in the face, began biting her pen, then held up her hand to ask for a break.
The judge called the testimony to a halt and gave the jury five minutes to recover.
Most of the family members of the victims rushed out of the courtroom as the victims’ wounds were described in graphic detail. Only Fritz’s mother remained, weeping silently. Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell is expected to rest his case Monday after bringing some technical motions.
Defense attorney Michael Frost will open his case with testimony from psychiatrists who will say Loukaitis was insane at the time of the shootings.
Frost said his case will take about four to five days to present.
The murder trial was moved to Seattle because of extensive pre-trial publicity in Grant County.
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