Santa Fe, Texas
Another American school has been devastated by gun violence—this time in southeastern Texas—after a 17-year-old male student opened fire inside Santa Fe High School on Friday morning, killing 10, most of them students and at least one teacher. Thirteen others were injured.
During first period at the 1,400-student high school about 30 miles south of Houston, authorities say Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a junior, entered the school armed with a shotgun and a .38 caliber pistol, walked into an art classroom, and began shooting. Witnesses said that he fired first the door to the art classroom, shattering a glass pane and sending panicked students to an entryway to block him from entering. He fired again through the wooden part of the door and fatally hit a student in the chest. He then lingered for about 30 minutes in a warren of four rooms, killing seven more students and two teachers before exchanging gunfire with police and surrendering, the Associated Press reported.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, the county’s chief administrator, said he did not think Friday’s attack was 30 minutes of constant shooting, and that assessment was consistent with other officials who said law enforcement contained the shooter quickly. But authorities did not release a detailed timeline to explain precisely how events unfolded.
Junior Breanna Quintanilla was in art class when she heard the shots and someone say, “If you all move, I’m going to shoot you all.”
The 17-year-old Pagourtzis walked in, pointed at one person and declared, “I’m going to kill you.” Then he fired.
“He then said that if the rest of us moved, he was going to shoot us,” Quintanilla said.
When Quintanilla tried to run out a back door, she realized Pagourtzis was aiming at her. He fired in her direction.
“He missed me,” she said. “But it went ahead and ricocheted and hit me in my right leg.” She was treated at a hospital and spoke with a brown bandage wrapped around her wound.
Also among the injured was John Barnes, a school district police officer assigned to the high school, who confronted the shooter, authorities said. Among them: an exchange student from Pakistan.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said explosive devices, including a molotov cocktail, were also found in the suspected shooter’s home and vehicle, as well as around the school and nearby.
Pagourtzis was arrested on capital murder charges and is being held without bail in the Galveston County jail, the Associated Press reported. Gov. Abbott told reporters that the suspected shooter had obtained the two firearms from his father and that he had planned to kill himself.
In their first statement since the massacre, Pagourtzis’ family said Saturday that the bloodshed “seems incompatible with the boy we love.”
“We are as shocked and confused as anyone else by these events,” said the statement, which offered prayers and condolences to the victims.
Friday’s mass school shooting comes just three months after 17 students and school staff members were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.—a massacre that set off an unprecedented wave of youth-led activism against gun violence. It is the 13th school shooting this year that resulted in injuries or deaths by gunfire, according to Education Week’s school shooting tracker.
A Community in Agony
Less than 12 hours after the horrific scene played out at Santa Fe High, students, parents, educators, and community members gathered for an evening vigil not far from the giant crime scene to grieve and pray. Hundreds of people poured onto an empty field, many of them students dressed in green and yellow, the school’s colors.
One student sang “Amazing Grace,” three pastors led prayers, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz told the gathered crowd that all of Texas was grieving with them.
Mavrik Pannell, a sophomore, said that his favorite substitute teacher was killed in the shooting. He said he heard that the teacher “gave her life to pull the fire alarm.” Mavrik said he knew the suspected shooter through a friend. “He was a very nice and respectful person,” Mavrik said. “But he was also kind of a stereotype. He wore trench coats and combat boots.”
Charlene Pannell, Mavrik’s mother, said that despite recent school shootings, she didn’t think something similar would happen in Santa Fe.
“We have a small, quaint community. It’s just a little country town with low crime.”
Gov. Abbott, speaking at the vigil, pledged to return “normalcy” and “safety” to Santa Fe High School.
In order to feel safe, Mavrik said he wants his teachers to be armed.
Student Taylor Gil, a junior, agreed. She said the school has teachers who are military veterans and would be prepared to carry a gun in school.
“I would feel much safer with armed teachers,” Taylor said.
The two students said that the high school had recently gotten more police protection after a scare in February—soon after the mass shooting in Parkland—when school leaders placed the building on lockdown after reports of popping sounds that sounded like gunfire.
Mavrik said the high school, as a designated gun-free zone, was a target.
Whether the shooting at Santa Fe High will add more momentum to an energized national movement of youth activists calling for gun control remains to be seen. In the days and weeks after the Parkland shooting, student survivors marched on the Florida capitol demanding more restrictions on guns. They organized protests in Washington and cities across the country and they called for students to walk out of class, which some Santa Fe High students joined in solidarity.
But in interviews with students and some parents, the views on guns in the Santa Fe community stand in stark contrast to those espoused by so many in Parkland.
Several students told Education Week said they doubt that the shooting at their school will lead to major changes that make them feel safer.
Blake Wingate, a sophomore, who said a fire alarm and shouts of “Run, run, run” sent him scurrying from the school building Friday morning, seemed resigned.
“I don’t know what can be done, I don’t think anything will change,” he said.“There’s not much you can do.”
School officials said Santa Fe High would be closed Monday and Tuesday, but Superintendent Leigh Wall pledged that the district will provide counselors and support staff to those who need them.
“Santa Fe High School is still the center of our community and no act of violence will change that,” said Wall, who spoke at the vigil.
What Will Happen Now?
Abbott, who called the shooting “one of the most heinous attacks” in the history of Texas schools, said there needs to be more than prayers for the victims and families. The Republican governor said that he would begin immediately working with the legislature and communities across the state to convene roundtable discussions about how to prevent such tragedies and that he wants to collect a wide range of viewpoints. He suggested they would explore strategies to keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a danger to others and resources to address mental health.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said that officials will have to be creative about finding ways to address school safety.
He suggested that the way schools are designed should be a focus for making them safer, including reducing the number of entrances and exits to and from buildings and retrofitting already existing buildings.
Patrick said the suspect walked into the school in a long coat—despite the heat—with a shot gun under the coat.
“It’s 90 degrees,” Patrick said. “Had there been one single entrance, possibly for every student, maybe he would have been stopped.”
“…[I]f we can protect a large office building, or a courthouse, or any major facility, maybe we need to look at limiting the entrance and the exits into our schools so that we can have law enforcement looking at the people who come in one or two entrances,” Patrick said.
He said that schools may need to stagger start times so that not all students arrive at school at the same time.
Staff Writers Denisa R. Superville, Corey Mitchell, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.