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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Teen brings gun to Ferris High

By Rob McDonald and Jonathan Brunt The Spokesman-Review

A 14-year-old boy went to Ferris High School on Thursday with a loaded gun and came within 6 feet of a teacher whom he planned to kill, police said.

The freshman, who was expelled from the school in January for writing a threatening e-mail to the teacher, told police that this week’s school shooting in Minnesota partly motivated him to go to Ferris intent on murder, Sgt. Joe Peterson said at a press conference Friday night.

“This had the potential to become one of the terrible tragedies that have happened in the last few years,” Peterson said. “I think everyone should be concerned about this. This is becoming a terrifying trend.”

The teen, whom police did not identify, was booked into juvenile detention on a count of first-degree attempted murder.

The boy, who enrolled at Shadle Park High School after he was expelled from Ferris, wrote a suicide note, took his stepfather’s gun and fired it into a mattress, police said. He went to the school with the loaded gun about 3:15 p.m. Thursday, spent a considerable amount of time in the school and saw the teacher inside a doorway, Peterson said.

“There were other people around and he was unable to carry out his intentions, we believe,” Peterson said.

Meanwhile, a family member found the suicide note and contacted police, who converged on the school, Peterson said. The teen was arrested about four blocks east of Ferris and taken to Sacred Heart Medical Center for a mental examination.

Sacred Heart officials released the boy about an hour later without telling police.

“Usually they call us and tell us they’re going to release (an arrestee),” Peterson said. “For some reason, we were not notified.”

A worker in the Sacred Heart communications office said hospital officials could not comment on patients entered into the psychiatric evaluation ward.

Police began to look for the teen Friday morning, after they discovered he had been released, Peterson said. The boy went to a counseling session on Friday and was with his mother when police rearrested him about 1 p.m. without incident, said police spokesman Dick Cottam. The student was booked into juvenile detention after being interviewed by major crimes detectives.

Based on police interviews with the teen, and other information gleaned from the investigation, Peterson said the student planned to kill the teacher and himself.

But, Peterson said, the teen apparently did not intend to commit suicide by forcing police to shoot him, like a Lewis and Clark High School student who was shot by police after he pointed a gun at officers in 2003. That LC student was seriously injured.

In the current case, police were notified in January about the threat that led to the teen’s expulsion from Ferris, and he is facing a felony charge of harassment, Peterson said.

Nonetheless, the student was allowed to enroll at Shadle Park.

Emmett Arndt, district director of high schools, said a long-term suspension removes a student from one school but that other schools in the district sometimes decide to let the student enroll. The school has the option of saying no, Arndt said.

In the case of the 14-year-old arrested Friday, the Shadle Park administration decided to let the student enroll.

“We acknowledge that keeping a student enrolled in school is in nearly every case in the best interest of the student,” Arndt said. “But on the other hand, we also consider … the student’s behavior and history of behavior.”

Arndt could not immediately provide an estimate of the number of students who are given a chance to enroll at one school after facing strong discipline at another.

“I’d say there are more than one, there are a number of kids who are given this kind of consideration,” he said.

Spokane Public Schools officials met Friday morning to discuss the situation with Ferris teachers and staff, said Joe Madsen, district director of safety and risk management.

Maureen Ramos, who is president of the Spokane Education Association and attended that meeting, said the staff were told, “the student is in custody, and there’s no reason to believe there is a continuing safety (concern).”

Spokane Public Schools spokeswoman Terren Roloff said there was no intention of misleading the Ferris staff with the statement.

“When the principal talked to staff we were all under the assumption he was in custody,” Roloff said. “It was after the morning meeting with the staff that we learned he wasn’t.”A note was sent home to parents Friday from Ferris Principal Erik Ohlund about the incident.

“While the student in question is in custody, we will continue to take extra precautions to ensure our Ferris community is safe, and I will keep staff informed throughout the day if new information becomes available,” Ohlund wrote in the note.

The teen’s attempt came in the same week of the deadliest school shooting since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. On Monday, a 16-year-old went to his high school in Red Lake, Minn., and killed a teacher, five students and a security guard after he killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion at their home.

“There was no shooting” in Spokane, Peterson said. “An obvious terrible disaster was averted.”