In her first two weeks at Freeman Middle School, Sydney McLean had hoped to make some new friends.
Instead, she bonded with her new classmates over the terror they felt when a freshman opened fire in the halls of the nearby high school.
McLean huddled together with classmates as they covered their vital organs with thick dictionaries in hopes of stopping a bullet, she wrote in her victim impact statement.
“Caleb Sharpe made my worst nightmares a reality,” McLean wrote.
Dozens of students, teachers, family members and loved ones had their victim impact statements read to Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Price on Tuesday.
Sharpe, who shot and killed Sam Strahan and wounded three girls in the 2017 shooting, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and other crimes earlier this month.
Worst moments of their lives
Stephanie Hyta loved attending Freeman High School just like her brothers had.
“They knew a different Freeman than I did,” she said. “I thought it was the safest place on earth.”
She had headed into her classroom on the second floor with plans to study for an upcoming test, which was her biggest concern as a junior in high school.
“There’s no way to prepare for the worst moments of your life,” Hyta said.
She hid, terrified, as shots were fired in the hallway, Hyta recalled.
As they waited to be led out of the building, Hyta said all she could think was “how many of my friends are dead?”
“I had never felt so extremely small in my entire life,” Hyta said.
As she was led out of the school, Hyta said she knew she shouldn’t look at the hallway behind her but ignored her instincts.
Posters were torn off the wall, lockers left open, books and binders strewn across the hall, she recalled. Then there was Strahan’s body wrapped in blankets and posters, she said.
“I will never forget that hallway,” Hyta said. “The world is an entirely different place for all of us.”
The terror she experienced that day continues to affect Hyta’s life as she attends college. She is scared to go to class or board a plane, she said.
“I no longer see any public space with people as safe,” Hyta said.
Hyta asked that Sharpe receive the maximum possible sentence for his crimes.
“He should never see the light of day,” Hyta said. “I hope he rots in jail.”
One of Hyta’s fellow students, Maddy Rae, agreed.
“A strong example has to be set,” Rae told the court. “Sam (Strahan) doesn’t have an opportunity to come home thus never should Caleb (Sharpe).”
Rae’s father, Jim Rae, has taught at Freeman Middle School for 28 years.
The shooting continues to have a daily impact on how the school is operated. In the hotter months, the school, without air conditioning, remains locked up for safety. Bags and backpacks aren’t allowed in classrooms, he said.
“This is a huge change for a rural school district that has always been free and open to meeting students’ needs,” he said.
Lockdown drills terrify his students and coworkers.
“Kids can’t be kids,” Jim Rae said.
Angela Frye was in her classroom on the second floor of the high school when Sharpe opened fire.
“It has been over four years and the memory of it has not faded,” she told the court, emotion visible on her face, Tuesday.
She tries to keep the memories at bay most days, but sometimes they overwhelm her, Frye said.
Often “a huge wave of shame and guilt,” comes over her because she feels she didn’t do enough, Frye said.
She passes the sign on the highway in remembrance of Strahan or remembers how Jordyn Goldsmith slid down her classroom wall, getting blood from her gunshot wound on the cabinets, Frye said.
“Some days I can barely get out of bed,” Frye said.
Freeman High School secretary Raelyn Davis was the one to push the button sending the school into lockdown when she noticed what was happening on surveillance cameras, her sister Kayley Harner wrote in her statement.
Davis continues to be affected by what she saw that day, unable to sleep even after intense therapy, her sister said. Before the shooting, she was a social person, hosting family gatherings, but now Davis chooses to stay home, her sister said.
The shooting has been a “tsunami of a ripple effect” through the entire community, Harner said.
Kennedy Simonowski, a childhood best friend of Emma Neese, who was injured in the shooting, remembers getting the call from her mother that her best friend had been shot, she wrote in her statement.
Despite not going to Freeman , Simonowski is reminded of the shooting frequently.
Once she was at the lake with Neese and accidentally let a cabinet slam close, sending her friend into a panic with tears in her eyes.
“Life went on,” Simonowski said, “but it was never the same.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.