Teenager guns down at least 10 in Texas high school

  • 18 May 2018

A heavily-armed student opened fire in Santa Fe High School; the latest mass shooting to devastate the US. The tragedy takes place just three months after the massacre in Parkland, Florida, where a former student killed 17 people.

Law-enforcement officers respond to Santa Fe High School following a shooting incident in Santa Fe, Texas. ( AFP )

A 17-year-old in a trench coat carrying a shotgun and a revolver opened fire at a Houston-area high school Friday, killing 10 people, mostly students, and injuring another 10, authorities said. It was the nation's deadliest such attack since the massacre in Florida that gave rise to a campaign by teens for gun control.

The sound of gunshots tore through the air at Santa Fe High School shortly before 8 am CT (1300 GMT) on Friday, witnesses told local media. Live TV images showed lines of students evacuating the building while heavily-armed police responded to the scene.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who has now been charged with capital murder in the Friday shooting, also had explosive devices, including a Molotov cocktail, that were found in the school and nearby, said Governor Greg Abbott. He called the assault "one of the most heinous attacks that we've ever seen in the history of Texas schools."

Authorities offered no immediate motive for the shooting. The governor said the assailant who was a junior at the school intended to kill himself but gave up and told police that he did not have the courage to take his own life.

The wounded included a school police officer who was the first to confront the suspect and got shot in the arm.

President Donald Trump "activated" his gun safety commission and is expected to meet with members next week in the wake of the deadly shooting.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the commission the president convened after the Parkland, Florida, shooting in February "has been activated today to start that conversation up again." She says she believes it will be meeting again in the "first part of next week."

She declined to say whether Trump will revisit some gun control measures after another school shooting, but adds, "Certainly conversation's ongoing about the best ways to protect kids across the country."

Senator John Cornyn says the 17-year-old student accused used a semi-automatic pistol and a sawed-off shotgun. The Republican from Texas says investigators are still determining whether the shotgun's shortened barrel is legal.

Cornyn says the suspect "planned on doing this for some time, he advertised his intentions but somehow slipped through the cracks."

Law enforcement authorities were questioning two "people of interest," Governor Abbott said. One may have "certain information," he said, and the other had some "suspicious reactions."

Santa Fe is a city of about 13,000 people roughly 30 miles (48 kilometres) southeast of Houston. 

Legally-owned weapons

Police said the weapons he was carrying were legally owned by his father. 

It was not clear whether the father knew his son had taken them.

Abbott said journal entries by the suspect suggested he wanted to commit suicide but that "he gave himself up."

Abbott also said there were no "warning signs" about the suspect ahead of time although he did post a picture on his Facebook page of a T-shirt with the words "Born to Kill" on it.

"The red-flag warnings were either non-existent or very imperceptible," he said.

A picture shows Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the suspect in the Santa Fe High School shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, US, in this undated picture obtained from social media, released on May 18, 2018.(Reuters)

What happened

Sophomore Leila Butler told the local ABC affiliate that fire alarms went off at about 7:45 am local time (1245 GMT) and students left their classrooms. She said some students believe they heard shots fired, and that she was sheltering with other students and teachers near campus.

A male student, who did not identify himself, described fleeing the scene in an interview with CBS-affiliate KHOU.

"Three shots that I heard, so we all took off in the back, and I tried to get into the trees; I didn't want to be in sight. I heard four more shots, and then we jumped the fence to somebody's house," the student said.

Another sophomore, Dakota Shrader, told Fox 26 TV her 17-year-old girlfriend told her by phone that she was wounded but was recovering in a hospital. "My friend got injured," said an emotional Shrader. "Her leg, she got shot in the leg."

Dr David Marshall, the chief nursing officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said the hospital was treating at least three patients – two adults and one person under 18. He said it was not immediately clear if that child was a student.

Latest of many school shootings 

The incident was the latest in a long series of deadly shootings at US schools. 

Seventeen teens and educators were shot dead at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, a massacre that stirred the nation's long-running debate over gun ownership.

In the aftermath of the Florida assault, survivors pulled all-nighters, petitioned city councils and state lawmakers, and organised protests in a grass-roots movement.

Within weeks, Florida lawmakers adopted changes, including new weapons restrictions. 

The move cemented the gun-friendly state's break with the National Rifle Association. The NRA fought back with a lawsuit.

In late March, the teens spearheaded one of the largest student protest marches since Vietnam in Washington and inspired hundreds of other marches from California to Japan.

The calls for tighter gun controls that have swelled since February have barely registered in gun-loving Texas — at least to this point.

Texas has some of the most permissive gun laws in the US and just hosted the NRA's annual conference earlier this month. 

In the run-up to March primaries, gun control was not a major issue with candidates of either party. Republicans did not soften their views on guns, and Democrats campaigned on a range of issues instead of zeroing in on gun violence.

Emma Gonzalez, a student and shooting survivor from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, cries as she addresses the conclusion of the "March for Our Lives" event demanding gun control after recent school shootings at a rally in Washington, DC, U.S., March 24, 2018.(Reuters)

Trump called the latest school massacre heartbreaking.

"My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others," Trump said at the White House.

Days after the Parkland shooting, Trump said that elected officials should be ready to "fight" the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group. Early this month he embraced that group, telling its annual meeting in Dallas "your Second Amendment rights are under siege."

The Second Amendment of the US Constitution protects the right to bear arms.

No major federal gun controls have been imposed since Parkland, though the administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on "bump stocks," which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people but have not played a role in other major US mass shootings.