Mattoon residents, students sing praises of teacher who subdued shooter

 

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UPDATE, 9 p.m.:

MATTOON — A female teacher acting quickly may have prevented further tragedy Wednesday at Mattoon High School after a male student shot another student in the cafeteria during lunch.

"Lives were saved by the quick response of a teacher here," Mattoon police Chief Jeff Branson said at press conference Wednesday evening. "She had been trained obviously, but in these scenarios, you just don’t know what happens until it happens."

The teacher apparently subdued the student gunman, who was then disarmed by the school resource officer.

"If that teacher had not responded as quickly as she had," Branson said, "I think the situation would have been a lot different."

Officials did not identify the shooter, the victim or the teacher.

The wounded student apparently was not the intended target.

"Numerous rounds were fired," Branson said, "one striking a bystander student who was trying to evacuate the cafeteria."

The officers located the injured student in the high school parking lot, and the school nurse came to his aid, Branson said.

The student was taken by emergency personnel to Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center for treatment.

Branson said the victim received one gunshot wound.

Mattoon school Superintendent Larry Lilly said he visited the victim at the hospital late Wednesday afternoon.

The student was "smiling, in stable condition, in good spirits and joked about catching some slack on his grades," Lilly said. "The victim’s father also shared that I pass along his prayers for the shooter’s family."

Branson said police got multiple calls about shots fired in the cafeteria beginning at 11:32 a.m.

"Mattoon High School officials were made aware of an active high school student shooter at approximately 11:30 a.m. on the Mattoon High School campus," Lilly said. "The school resource officer and school officials headed to the cafeteria, where they heard shots fired."

After the suspect was subdued, Lilly said, emergency procedures were activated, and students and staff exited the high school.

He said the injured student’s parents were notified, and all other students were transferred to Riddle Elementary School to be released to their parents.

Police searched the school room by room, and area schools were placed on a soft lockdown.

"We are saddened that this has happened, and we will provide counseling to our students," Lilly said. "We will continue to work with the emergency personnel to determine what happened. We appreciate the quick response of our staff and our first responders. Most importantly, we offer our thoughts and prayers to the injured student and all who were affected by this tragedy."

Counselors, local clergy and police officers will be available to students and staff to provide comfort and counseling in the days ahead, Lilly said. The district posted on its Facebook page that the high school will be let out early at 12:09 p.m. Thursday. Parents are allowed to keep their students home if they wish.

"We feel we got the only shooter and only participant in custody," Branson said. "We are pretty confident now it was one individual."

"The evidence at this point in time indicates this juvenile was acting alone," Coles County State’s Attorney Brian Bower said. He said no more information can be provided at this time.

The Coles County Sheriff’s Office, Illinois State Police, Lake Land police, Eastern Illinois University police, the East Central Illinois Task Force and Mattoon Fire Department all provided assistance, Branson said. He said Mattoon police will have a presence in the schools in the coming days.

Gov. Bruce Rauner tweeted his support for the victim Wednesday evening:

Mahomet-Seymour High School, which belongs to the same athletics conference as Mattoon, also sent out a tweet of support:

At Riddle Elementary, tables were set up for each high school class, and water bottles handed out in the 90-degree heat.

John Johnson, a parent of three high school-aged students, said he moved to Mattoon to avoid this kind of violence.

"I moved away from the inner city to come down here because it’s more laid back and easier for my kids to grow up in," he said. "It really doesn’t make a difference where you live at anymore. It can happen anywhere."

His kids were all safe.

"They were all able to get out safely," Johnson said. "One of my sons, he was in the cafeteria when it all happened. He said he was probably about two tables away."

Johnson was at home across the street when the shooting occurred. His daughter called, and he ran to go to the high school.

When Niki Baldwin was returning to school after lunch, the rest of the school was evacuating.

"I left for lunch and then came back," said Baldwin, a Mattoon junior. "Right when I came back, that’s when everybody started evacuating and some lady was yelling not to go inside."

Baldwin said it was "mind-blowing" for a school shooting to happen in a town of about 18,000.

The high school was surrounded by police cars the rest of the afternoon, and the school district posted on Facebook that while students would be able to begin picking up their cars from the school at 5 p.m., they wouldn’t be allowed back in the building because of the ongoing investigation.

At Riddle, Lutheran pastors Adam Jacobsen and Paul Hopkins were handing out water and providing comfort.

"People have been pretty scared," Jacobsen said. "There’s also, especially among the parents here and the students that I’ve seen, a thankfulness that people are safe. And lots of thoughts and prayers and concerns for those who are not."

Jacobsen said the situation at Riddle had been operating smoothly.

"It’s been pretty orderly. There’s been a few high tensions, as can be expected, but nothing major," Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen and Hopkins came from a church meeting at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Mattoon.

"We had prayers right away before we even came here," Hopkins said.

St. John’s Lutheran School was placed on lockdown as soon as the alert went out, Jacobsen said.

"I came back to my school to help provide comfort there because several of the younger kids have brothers and sisters" at the high school, he said. "And then as soon as I was able to organize some of us, we got water and came on down."

In the afternoon, Jessica O’Dell was picking up her son at Riddle.

"Just making sure everyone is OK. It’s scary," she said. "It’s kind of not so surprising with as much bullying as is going on. But to be quite honest, it’s a little too close to home."

Original story, posted 7:45 p.m.:

MATTOON — When students return to Mattoon High School on Thursday, they'll be able to pick up what they left behind after a shooting left one student injured in the cafeteria.

When a male student shot another student about 11:30 a.m., the high school was evacuated and students were taken by bus to Riddle Elementary School.

Counselors, clergy and police officers will also be on hand Thursday to comfort students, the school district said on Facebook, and students at the high school will be dismissed at 12:09 p.m. Parents are allowed to keep their kids home Thursday.

After the shooting, the shooter was subdued and disarmed by school staff and placed in custody.

The injured student was taken to a local hospital, where he was in stable condition.

Police searched the school room by room, and area schools were placed on a soft lockdown.

At Riddle, tables were set up for parents of each high school class, and water bottles were being handed out in the 90-degree heat.

John Johnson, a parent of three high-school-aged students, said he moved to Mattoon to avoid this kind of violence.

"I moved away from the inner city to come down here because it's more laid back and easier for my kids to grow up in," he said. "It really doesn't make a difference where you live at anymore. It can happen anywhere."

His three high school-aged kids were all safe.

"They were all able to get out safely," Johnson said. "One of my sons, he was in the cafeteria when it all happened. He said he was probably about two tables away."

Johnson was at home across the street when the shooting occurred. His daughter called, and he ran to the high school.

When Niki Baldwin was returning to school after lunch Wednesday, the rest of the school was evacuating.

"I left for lunch and then came back," said Baldwin, a junior at Mattoon High School. "Right when I came back, that's when everybody started evacuating and some lady was yelling not to go inside."

Baldwin said it was "mind-blowing" for a school shooting to happen in a town of about 18,000.

The high school was surrounded by police cars the rest of the afternoon, and the school district posted on Facebook that while students would be able to begin picking up their cars from the school at 5 p.m., they wouldn't be allowed back in the building due to the ongoing investigation.

At Riddle, Lutheran pastors Adam Jacobsen and Paul Hopkins were handing out water and providing comfort.

"People have been pretty scared," Jacobsen said. "There's also, especially among the parents here and the students that I've seen, a thankfulness that people are safe. And lots of thoughts and prayers and concerns for those who are not."

Jacobsen said the situation at Riddle had been operating pretty smoothly.

"It's been pretty orderly. There's been a few high tensions, as can be expected, but nothing major," Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen and Hopkins came from a church meeting at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Mattoon.

"We had prayers right away before we even came here," Hopkins said.

St. John's Lutheran School was placed on lockdown as soon as the alert went out, Jacobsen said.

"I came back to my school to help provide comfort there because several of the younger kids have brothers and sisters (at the high school)," he said. "And then as soon as I was able to organize some of us, we got water and came on down."

In the afternoon, Jessica O'Dell was picking up her son at Riddle.

"Just making sure everyone is OK. It's scary," she said. "It's kind of not so surprising with as much bullying as is going on. But to be quite honest, it's a little too close to home."

Reporter

Tim Mitchell is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is tmitchel@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@mitchell6).