Gunman shot himself
Monday, November 29, 2010 6:38 PM
MARINETTE - A 15-year-old male student held 23 students and a female teacher hostage for about six hours Monday at Marinette High School.
Students step off a bus at the Marinette County Courthouse after a stand-off ended Monday. A student gunman held 23 students and a teacher hostage at Marinette High School.
Facebook rumors didn’t help
By MIKE DESOTELL
EagleHerald staff writer
MARINETTE - Word of the hostage situation at Marinette High School Monday spread quickly thanks in large part to social networking sites like Facebook. Much of the information, however, was nothing more than rumor and only added to the concerns of parents and students who had friends inside.
"There have been very serious injuries reported on Facebook that we know are not true," said Marinette Police Chief Jeffrey Skorik. "We would just ask that people not jump to conclusions about the status of any of the people involved in this."
As some 100 police, fire and rescue personnel converged on the school, several times as many parents, students and neighbors gathered at Pierce and Cleveland avenues to see the drama play out from themselves. Everyone was waiting for official word on the condition of the 23 students and the teacher being held at gunpoint.
Brenda Gove's 16-year-old daughter Merissa Burnett attends Marinette High. The two were part of an impromptu prayer circle that formed. Afterwards the two hugged and cried as their thoughts focused on Merissa's friends inside. Gove said it's difficult to know what to say to her daughter. "Right now I don't even begin to know, other than to hold her as much as possible."
Jim Dufrane of Marinette was also there to show support. "It's just hard to make sense out of this and you hope the kids come out OK, that everyone comes out OK on this."
Several school board members were also in the crowd talking with parents and answering what questions they could.
Superintendent Tim Baneck and others who were in a different part of the building when the stand-off was reported were bused out of harm's way. They were first taken to the U.W. Marinette gym and then transferred to the Marinette County Courthouse. Baneck helped family members reunite with their children who were in the building but not in the classroom that was taken hostage.
Several years ago the district went through a series of bomb threats and afterwards students and visitors had to pass through metal detectors. At some point that process stopped but other security measures were added, all with the idea of making the school a safer environment.
"We have cameras all over," said School Board President Scott Vande Hei. "You can't just enter the school, you have to be buzzed in. Unfortunately there's always situations like this you can't prevent."
Vande Hei said as soon as a situation like this occurs, the school immediately goes on lock-down. It's a procedure that is practiced with local and county law enforcement agencies.
"There's only so much you can do," said Vande Hei. "I'm sure we'll be getting a breakdown on how all the events took place. There's always things you could do better and things you can improve."
About 700 students attend Marinette High School. In addition to making sure each of them receives the best education possible, the district is also responsible for their well being.
"You want to make the school as safe as possible for kids but you also have to live life and you can only go so far," said Vande Hei. "It's impossible for anyone to prevent everything. You do your best and make sure everyone in charge is well-schooled in handling a crisis." Vande Hei said he didn't think the school was in need of metal detectors.
Parent Jim Dufrane agreed. "If you did something like that than what's the next step, and what's the next step," he said.
Former school board member Joe Poisson disagreed. "It's not a good situation. It needs to be taken to the next step," he said. "This can happen any place, it's scary. My daughter will be up here in two years, my other daughter just got done last year." Poisson said he thought metal detectors should be put back in.
The suspect, a student in the sophomore Western Civilization class, shot himself after police officers stormed the classroom shortly after 8 p.m., according to Marinette Police Chief Jeff Skorik.
The suspect, whose name was not released, was transported to Bay Area Medical Center. Skorik said his condition is unknown and his parents are with him. Other media reported he was transferred to a Green Bay hospital.
Skorik said officers broke through the door after they heard three gunshots.
"There were shots fired prior to law enforcement's arrival," he said. "After officers breached the door, the suspect was standing in front of the classroom and he fired one shot - and suffered a self-inflicted wound."
Skorik said it's not immediately clear where the other shots were fired, but neither the students nor the teacher, Valerie Burd, were injured.
"All the students were safely removed from the classroom, placed on buses and reunited with their families (at the Marinette County Courthouse)," Skorik said.
Five of the students were released shortly before 8 p.m. when they told the gunman they had to use the bathroom.
The chief said the gunman - armed with a .22 caliber semiautomatic and a 9mm semiautomatic - did not make any demands during the ordeal. He said all contact to the classroom was done through the hostage negotiator and the teacher. It's not clear if the suspect had a motive, he said.
Marinette County District Attorney Allen Brey will review the case and file charges, possibly today, according to Skorik.
The gunman apparently took the classroom hostage sometime during sixth hour - between 1:30 and 2:15 p.m. The 911 call wasn't placed until 3:48 p.m.
Skorik said the details are still being sorted out as to what led to the 911 call from Principal Corry Lambie.
Superintendent Tim Baneck assured that students' safety was the top priority and that administrators handled the situation correctly.
"Our administrators are very capable and I'm confident they were concerned with the safety of our children," he said.
Senior Kevin Smith was one of the students in Burd's seventh-hour class. He said the entire class was turned away when they arrived at about 2:15.
"She peeked her head out and told us to go visit the library and work on our debates," he said.
Smith said he and a classmate went back to Burd's room at about 2:50 p.m. to see if she wanted them to take attendance.
"I could see all the kids in the class through the (door) window - I thought she was scolding them," he said, adding that he saw the suspect, but did not see any weapon.
Skorik did not give details of what led to the 911 call, but a source said administrators were notified by a student at about 3:45 p.m. that Burd's classroom was locked with students inside. Lambie immediately called 911, the source said.
Burd was praised for how she handled the situation.
"I was told she did a great job under those circumstances," Baneck said.
Kelly Danielczak, a Marinette Middle School teacher and close friend of Burd's, was with the parents of the children at the courthouse.
"She's a teacher every kid likes," Danielczak said. "She's not a yeller or a screamer. She's speaks in a soft-spoken voice. She's 100 percent the type of teacher you want with that child (the suspect). He won't see her as a threat. He'll see her as someone who will help him."
Senior Rachel Bjorkman was not at school when the incident took place, but her younger brother, Nathan, was one of the hostages.
"He's very brave," she said.
Lt. Jim Albright of the Marinette County Sheriff's Department announced to the parents at about 8:10 p.m. that the crises was over and all the children were safe.
A collective sigh could be heard through the jury assembly room, followed by applause, tears and hugs.
Jeff Thielen, whose 15-year-old son Brad was a hostage, said he and his family relied on prayer during the situation.
"There's a certain relief," he said shortly after news that the children were safe. "There still will be wounds emotionally. I have two children (ages 13 and 11) who were in the high school with my wife (Cindi, a teacher). They took this pretty hard."
Baneck said the high school will not have classes today. He said grief counselors will be made available.By CLINTON LANG
EagleHerald staff writer
MARINETTE - Monday night's hostage standoff in a Marinette High School classroom ended without injury to any of the 23 students being held.
But the ordeal has left fellow students, including some who knew the 15-year-old alleged gunman, wondering what exactly went wrong.
Senior Michael Arnold said he was reporting for his scheduled seventh hour class when he discovered something just wasn't right.
"I was supposed to arrive there for seventh hour (and) I arrived two or three minutes early - the door was closed, the lights were off (so) we waited there. About a minute after the bell rang for seventh hour I saw two students back up with their desks, and then some seconds later Mrs. (Valerie) Burd walked out and told all of us to walk down to the library - and then immediately after that when she closed the door, I heard a gunshot (sound)," Arnold said.
According to Arnold, Burd didn't explain to the other students standing in the hall what was going on, "she just said 'go down to the library.'"
Arnold said he and the others who were waiting thought the gunshot sound might have been a door being slammed, or someone dropping something heavy. It wasn't until later that evening when Arnold spoke with his mother about the incident that he began to put the pieces together.
Arnold said he knew the alleged gunman's name, but police are not yet allowing the suspect's name to be released.
Another Marinette High School student, sophomore Nick Nelezen, said he not only knows the suspect's name, he knows the shooter on a personal level.
Nelezen was at school, gathering his stuff for wrestling practice when he noticed a female student come out of a classroom, crying.
"She said that one of my friends from Boy Scouts had a gun in school, and held the whole the class hostage," Nelezen said.
When he was told the gunman the was someone he was close to, Nelezen was shocked.
"I went to Boy Scouts with him; I did a lot of stuff with him. He was a straight A student, he was really quiet and never had anything wrong with him - he was one of the most popular kids I knew," Nelezen said.
Like many other students and parents, Nelezen is left to wonder what could have possibly led to his friend deciding to hold 23 of his classmates hostage.
Investigators are now tasked with putting the pieces of the puzzle together - and making sense of the unthinkable.