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Monday 16 September 2019

Texas School gunman yelled 'surprise' before shooting

SHOOTING: Children light candles during a vigil held in the wake of the school shooting in Santa Fe. Picture: AP/Stuart Villanueva/The Galveston County Daily News
SHOOTING: Children light candles during a vigil held in the wake of the school shooting in Santa Fe. Picture: AP/Stuart Villanueva/The Galveston County Daily News
Alleged shooter Dimitrios Pagourtzis

Juan A Lozano in Santa Fe

Only weeks ago, a dozen students from Santa Fe High School in Texas offered support for survivors of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting by participating in a nationwide walkout seeking stricter gun control.

Last Friday, it was Parkland students who declared their solidarity with teens in Santa Fe after a 17-year-old armed with a shotgun and a pistol opened fire at the Houston-area school, killing 10 people. It was the nation's deadliest such attack since the Florida massacre that killed 17 and energised the teen-led gun-control movement.

Student Kyle Harris, who took part in the walkout last month, was in first period when a fire alarm went off. Then, he heard teachers urging him to flee.

"The scariest thing is hearing a teacher who knows your name personally call you by your name and tell you to run," Harris tweeted.

The suspected shooter, who is now in custody on murder charges, also had explosive devices that were found in the school and nearby.

Investigators offered no motive. In a probable cause affidavit , however, authorities said the suspect admitted to the shooting. The gunman also told investigators that when he opened fire last Friday morning, "he did not shoot students he did like so he could have his story told", according to the affidavit.

Officers said the assailant intended to kill himself but gave up and told police that he did not have the courage to take his own life.

The deaths were all but certain to re-ignite the debate over gun regulations, coming just three months after the Florida attack.

"It's been happening everywhere. I've always kind of felt like that eventually it was going to happen here too," Santa Fe High School student Paige Curry said. "I don't know. I wasn't surprised. I was just scared."

Another 10 people were wounded at the school in Santa Fe, a city of about 13,000 people roughly 48km southeast of Houston. The wounded included a school police officer who was the first to confront the suspect and was shot in the arm.

Hospitals reported treating 14 people for injuries related to the shooting.


Zachary Muehe, a student at the school of roughly 1,400 students, was in his art class when he heard three loud booms. Muehe said that a student he knew from football was armed with a shotgun and was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the slogan "Born to Kill."

"It was crazy watching him shoot and then pump. I remember seeing the shrapnel from the tables, whatever he hit. I remember seeing the shrapnel go past my face," he said.

Michael Farina (17) heard the fire alarm and thought it was a drill. He was holding a door open for special education students in wheelchairs when a principal came rushing down the hall, telling everyone to run. Another teacher yelled out: "It is real!"

Students were led to take cover behind a car shop across the street from the school. Some still did not feel safe and began jumping the fence behind the shop to run even farther away, Farina said.

"I debated doing that myself," he said.

The gunman yelled "surprise" before shooting.

The suspect was identified as Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who appeared to have no prior arrests or confrontations with law enforcement. A woman who answered the phone at a number associated with the Pagourtzis family declined to speak with reporters.

Pagourtzis played on the junior varsity football team and was a member of a dance squad with a local Greek Orthodox church. Acquaintances described him as quiet and unassuming, an avid video game player who routinely wore a black trench coat and black boots to class. The suspect obtained the shotgun and a .38-caliber handgun from his father, who owned them legally. It was not clear whether the father knew his son had taken them.

Investigators were determining whether the shotgun's shortened barrel was legal.

The assailant's homemade explosives included pipe bombs, at least one Molotov cocktail and pressure-cooker bombs like those used in the Boston Marathon attack.

While cable news channels carried hours of live coverage, survivors of the February 14 Florida attack took to social media to express grief.

Last Friday's assault was the deadliest in Texas since a man with a semi-automatic rifle attacked a rural church late last year, killing more than two dozen people.

There were few prior clues about Pagourtzis' behaviour, unlike the shootings in Parkland and the church in Sutherland Springs, but the teen wrote in journals of wanting to carry out such an attack and then to end his own life.

"This young man planned on doing this for some time. He advertised his intentions but somehow slipped through the cracks," said officers.

© Reuters

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