By Russell Contreras
ROSWELL, N.M. – A 12-year-old New Mexico boy drew a shotgun from a band-instrument case and shot and wounded two classmates at his middle school Tuesday morning before a teacher talked him into dropping the weapon and he was taken into custody, officials and witnesses said.
Gov. Susana Martinez says a boy was critically injured and a girl was in serious condition following the shooting at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell.
The students were in the gym, where she said they typically hang out before classes start during cold and inclement weather. The 12-year-old pulled a shotgun and opened fire there at about 8 a.m.
But he was “quickly stopped by one staff member who walked right up to him and asked him to set down the firearm, which he did,” Martinez said.
Officials at University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas, say an 11-year-old boy was flown there in critical condition and a 13-year-old girl was en route in serious condition. Information from nurses treating the boy indicates he was the shooter’s target, hospital spokesman Eric Finley said. There was some confusion about the boy’s age, but Finley said his parents told the hospital he is 11.
The governor says a staff member received very minor injuries but declined medical care because he wanted to stay and help.
Odiee Carranza, an eighth grader at Berrendo, said she was walking to the school gym when the suspect bumped into her as he rushed past. She told him to be careful, and he apologized and continued on. The boy ran to the gym, where he pulled a gun out of a band instrument case and fired at the students.
“Then he shot up in the sky, then dropped the gun, and then some teacher grabbed the kid that had the gun,” Carranza said.
Carranza described the shooter as a “smart kid and a nice kid.”
A statement from the state police said authorities responded at 8:11 a.m. Roswell police say the school was placed on lockdown, and the suspected shooter was arrested. His name was not released.
Police said children were bused to a nearby mall, where parents could pick up them up.
“I’m still scared to go back to school,” Carranza said.
Another student, Gabby Vasquez, said the boy who was shot “was really nice, got along with everybody.” Hospital officials said Tuesday afternoon that the 11-year-old had undergone surgery but was still in critical condition.
Employees who arrived early to work at United Drilling Inc., across the street from the school, heard no gunshots. They didn’t know about the commotion until around 8 a.m., when their parking lot filled with police and rescue vehicles.
At the Roswell mall, parents waited anxiously for their children. Some held hands, while others hugged each other.
Two prayer services were scheduled for Tuesday night at Roswell’s Calvary Baptist and First Baptist churches. Pastor Chris Mullennix said parents were worried and heartbroken, but there was a sense among many he spoke with that the community would be able to come together.
“This is something that strikes people to the core,” he said in an interview. “We’re not talking about a flesh wound or just a mental wound. We’re talking about the very souls of people being shaken and rocked by something like this.”
Mullennix said the prayer services will start the healing process.
“This is tragic but yet people in Roswell are tough, and people in Roswell will recover because we do have a sense of community, and I think that’s really important,” he said.
In the hours after the shooting, social media sites were flooded with sentiments offering prayers for the community. Some Berrendo students posted on their Facebook sites that they were frightened and didn’t want to return to school.
At a briefing later in the day, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president was aware of the shooting.
“Our understanding is this is not an active shooter situation,” Carney said. “The president’s team is monitoring the situation and is in close touch with our federal partners.”
Roswell has a population of about 50,000. It is a center for ranching and farming, and is home to the New Mexico Military Institute, the only state-supported military college in the West. The city is perhaps best-known as the site of an alleged UFO crash in 1947.
Associated Press writers Jeri Clausing and Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque contributed to this report.