By BILL CORMIER
The Associated Press
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – A high school student opened fire in a classroom in southern Argentina, killing four classmates and wounding five Tuesday in Argentina's worst school rampage on record, police said.
The 15-year-old suspect began his attack without uttering a word, letting go with intermittent bursts of gunfire from a 9-millimeter handgun as students cowered beneath their desks, authorities said.
The rampage at Islas Malvinas Middle School No. 2 in a remote southern corner of Buenos Aires province, touched off intense nationwide debate about spiraling school violence in Argentina, long considered one of South America's safer countries.
Stabbings and other attacks on teachers and students have recently alarmed educators and parents alike and Tuesday's gunfire triggered public soul-searching about the state of Argentina's classrooms.
“We heard gunfire and a lot of screaming and then everyone coming out into the hallway,” said one boy on local television, who did not identify himself. “We saw three bodies on the ground with bullet wounds.”
Authorities provided no immediate motive for the attack but said they were questioning the student, who was arrested soon after the attack on the classroom in Carmen de Patagones, some 610 miles south of Buenos Aires.
The suspect showed up around 7:30 a.m. before the teacher arrived, walked into a classroom, drew the gun from its holster and began firing indiscriminately at classmates, according to police.
Some students said it sounded like firecrackers going off, until they saw bloodied students screaming as they fled the room, according to local news agency Diarios y Noticias. One boy said the suspect terrified classmates as he took out the weapon and began shooting.
“Everyone hid underneath the desks and then he began firing,” he told local Canal 7 television station.
After the shooting stopped, police said, two girls and a boy ranging from 14 to 16 were dead and a teenage girl was mortally wounded. Five others were injured, one in serious condition.
Police said they arrested the suspected gunman without resistance soon afterward in the schoolyard.
Mario Oporto, education minister for vast Buenos Aires province that includes Carmen de Patagones, lamented the violence.
“This is a case of violence that has exceeded all bounds,” Oporto said.
Reports of classroom violence have raised public concern in recent months and years even before the shooting, which is the worst on record.
In July, a 12-year-old schoolgirl was hospitalized after she was badly beaten, allegedly by classmates, at a school in La Plata southeast of Buenos Aires. A 17-year-old student in central Cordoba was found stabbed, last November. In October 2003, a teacher in Mendoza, western Argentina, had her skull fractured by a tossed paving stone.
Before midday Tuesday, firefighters rolled three bodies out of the school in black plastic body bags. A shocked crowd milled outside amid the ambulances and police cars standing by.
Authorities said they had whisked the teenage suspect to a juvenile court center in Bahia Blanca, another city in southern Buenos Aires province. Officials said he would undergo psychiatric tests as part of the first stages of the investigation.