Six Georgia High School Students Shot

15-Year-Old Sophomore Taken Into Custody

Associated Press, May 20, 1999
By James Pilcher

CONYERS, Ga. - A student with two guns opened fire at his high school today, shooting six schoolmates exactly one month after the Colorado massacre, authorities said. The suspect tearfully surrendered after putting a gun into his own mouth.

The most seriously wounded student was listed as stable after surgery for a gunshot wound to the intestines.

Hours after today's shooting, the U.S. Senate approved a Democratic proposal - with Vice President Al Gore casting a tie-breaking vote - to place fresh restrictions on gun transactions. The proposal would require mandatory background checks for all transactions at gun shows and for anyone seeking to reclaim a weapon at a pawn shop.

The suspect was described as a 15-year-old sophomore at Heritage High School who according to a friend had recently broken up with his girlfriend. The gunman had two weapons, a .22-caliber rifle and a .22-caliber revolver, District Attorney Richard Read said.

"I looked to my left and saw this guy in front of the girls bathroom," said Jessie McCumber, a 15-year-old freshman. "He started running sideways and shooting his gun at no particular person. Everyone's screaming, 'Oh, my God, he's got a gun!"'

The shootings happened about 7:55 a.m., or about 20 minutes before classes were to begin in this middle-class suburb 20 miles east of Atlanta. Today was the final day of classes for seniors at Heritage.

"I thought it was firecrackers until I saw the kids running toward me," math teacher Tony Gray said.

Senior Joe Watts said the gunman dropped the rifle as he fled. Once outside, he pulled out a revolver, dropped to his knees and put it in his mouth, Watts said.

An assistant principal embraced the gunman, who began crying and said, "Oh, my God, I'm so scared," Watts said.

It was "complete pandemonium," senior Michael Ramos said.

Nathaniel Deeter, 15, said the gunman had broken up with his girlfriend three days ago and since then had told Deeter, "I have no reason to live anymore."

"I told him he was crazy," Deeter said. "I thought he was just feeling sorry for himself because a lot of kids feel like that."

Chris Dunn, a sophomore and friend of the suspect, said he had seen guns at his friend's home but never heard him mention plans to shoot anyone at school. He did notice the boy's grades had been falling. "He wasn't even trying anymore, which I was kind of concerned about," Dunn said.

The most seriously wounded, a 15-year-old girl, was airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where she underwent surgery for a shot that had pierced her intestines. The hospital gave no detail on her condition other than that it was stable. The others injured had superficial wounds: Three were held for observation at Rockdale Hospital in Conyers and two were treated and released.

Students gathered outside the school on a track after the shooting, then began boarding buses to head home. Classes were canceled for the rest of the week, but school officials said graduation would go on as scheduled May 28.

On April 20, two students with guns and bombs killed 13 people before taking their own lives at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

President Clinton was preparing to leave for Littleton today when he received news of the Rockdale County shooting. The news "is deeply troubling to me, as it is to all Americans. We thank God that the injuries to the students do not seem to be life-threatening," Clinton said.

Michael Shoels, the father of Littleton victim Isaiah Shoels, expressed dismay.

"I have said since this thing happened that they better beware because it's going to happen again and again," Shoels said.

Heritage High, which has about 1,300 students, has no metal detectors but does employ a campus policeman and has surveillance cameras.

The injured were identified as: 15-year-old Stephanie Laster, in stable condition at Grady Memorial Hospital; Brian Barnhardt, 16, Jason Cheek, 17, and Cania Collins, 15, all admitted to Rockdale Hospital for evaluation with superficial wounds; and Drake Hoy and Ryan Rosa, both 18, treated and released.

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