WASHINGTON — In a saner world, their thoughts would be turning to summer vacations or high school graduation or college.
Instead, in what has become a heartbreakingly familiar scene in America, the students at Santa Fe High School in Texas wept and embraced and mourned fallen teenagers gunned down in the latest school shooting rampage Friday.
Dakota Shrader, a 10th-grader at the school, 35 miles southeast of Houston, stood in the brilliant sunshine and spoke of a terror that has become all too common. Her tears came in torrents.
“Everybody just started running outside, and next thing you know, everybody looks, and you hear ‘boom, boom, boom!’ “ Dakota told reporters. “And I just ran as fast as I could to the nearest floor so I could hide, and I called my mom.”
Dakota bit her lip.
“I shouldn’t be going through this at my school,” she said. “This is my daily life. … And I feel scared to even go back. It’s just not something that you should feel throughout the day, being scared. I just shouldn’t have to feel like this.”
‘An unthinkable tragedy’
Following the rampage, in which authorities saidadmitted killing nine fellow students and a substitute teacher after 7:30 a.m. local time, Leigh Wall, superintendent of the Santa Fe Independent School District, posted to Facebook: “We experienced an unthinkable tragedy at our high school this morning.”
Similar sentiments flooded social media in the aftermath of the massacre.
It came less than two months after hundreds of thousands of youths descended on the nation’s capital for the “March for Our Lives” rally to demand stricter gun laws after the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting left 17 people dead. The students in Washington and across the country had demonstrated behind the viral rallying cry #NeverAgain.
Never happened again Friday, and Fred Guttenberg said he has dreaded another school shooting ever since his daughter Jaime died, along with 13 other students and three staff members, on Valentine’s Day at Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida.
After the Santa Fe High shooting, when the confirmed death toll still stood at eight, the father tweeted:
This has been my fear since February 14th, that another mass casualty shooting would happen before we did anything. Now, we have 8 more children dead and our leadership in Washington has done nothing. We do not need thoughts and prayers, we need action and we need it now.
— Fred Guttenberg (@fred_guttenberg) May 18, 2018
Mollie Davis — a student at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland, where a student shot two fellow students two months ago, one of whom later died — tweeted a photo of a girl weeping outside Santa Fe High Friday morning after a friend had been shot and wounded.
This young girl should be laughing in class with her friend. Not crying outside because her friend was shot. My heart breaks. If anyone knows her name or a way to reach out to her please DM me. https://t.co/Uoz51Gsk0Z
— Mollie Davis #NEVERAGAIN (@davism0llie) May 18, 2018
Trump pledges action to stop school violence
At the White House, where President Donald Trump had been delivering a speech on prison reform, he expressed anger and grief and offered prayers for the victims of the latest school shooting.
“This has been going on too long in our country — too many years, too many decades now,” Trump said. “We grieve for the terrible loss of life and send our support and love to everyone affected by this absolutely horrific attack. To the students, families, teachers and personnel at Santa Fe High: We’re with you in this tragic hour and we will be with you forever.”
The president added that his 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. Everyone must work together at every level of government to keep our children safe.”
“Every day, [the commission] is working to identify proven ways to prevent violence and keep our students safe at school,” DeVos said. “Our work remains urgent. Our nation must come together and address the underlying issues that lead to such tragic and senseless loss of life.”
But the National PTA — along with national organizations representing school superintendents, school principals, school psychologists, school social workers and school counselors — faulted DeVos in a letter to the education secretary after the Texas shooting Friday for the commission’s failure to “engage stakeholders” in taking steps to ensure school safety.
The letter’s signers noted the commission has met with educators only twice since forming.
“Regrettably, there have been no further public announcements or specific details provided regarding meaningful opportunities for concerned citizens, practitioners and experts in the field to engage with the Commission,” the letter stated, calling on the commission to “work urgently” to engage experts in devising ways to prevent school violence.
In a statement Friday, National PTA President Jim Accomando said: “We are way beyond ‘enough is enough.’ More must be done immediately to keep our children safe. There needs to be a greater sense of urgency to improve school safety and protect our children.”
DeVos’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Cuomo attacks Trump, NRA
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized what he portrayed as the Trump administration’s inadequate response to school shootings and the National Rifle Association’s resistance to gun-control measures.
In an “open letter” to the president and congressional lawmakers after the Santa Fe school shooting, the third at a school in a week, Cuomo wrote: “When is enough enough? How many more innocent people have to die before you act? You were elected to lead —do something. Your first responsibility is to the people of this country, not the NRA — do something. My heart breaks for the families who have to grieve from this needless violence — DO SOMETHING.”
The High School Democrats of America also had harsh words for Republicans and the NRA. tweeting:
We are sorry that this nation has failed you, Santa Fe High. At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with your community…but unlike the GOP & NRA, we refuse to stop there. We will work hard to elect candidates who understand the need for common-sense gun reforms. #NeverAgain
— High School Dems (@hsdems) May 18, 2018
At a news conference, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for decisive action to stop school shootings.
“We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” said Abbott, who ordered flags to be flown at half-staff throughout the state. “It’s time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again in the history of the state of Texas.”
Disturbing details about alleged shooter emerge
Meantime, chilling details began emerging about Pagourtzis.
On his Facebook page, which has since been taken down, Texas authorities said he had worn a black T-shirt with “Born to Kill” in white letters in one photo and displayed a long black jacket with neo-Nazi symbols in another. Also on his Facebook page, an image depicted the electronic music artist Perturbator, whose songs include one called “Humans Are Such Easy Prey.”
Police said Pagourtzis had a shotgun and a .38 revolver used in the murders, concealed beneath a black trench coat he wore to school regularly (recalling Columbine High’s “trench-coat mafia” shooters in the 1999 mass shooting at that Colorado school).
Governor Abbott told reporters Pagourtzis had kept indicated he planned to kill other students, then commit suicide in journals discovered at his residence.
Both guns used in the attack had been legally owned by the suspect’s father, Abbott said.
Among those wounded was John Barnes, a 49-year-old former Houston police officer who is a school resource officer, shot while trying to end the rampage, authorities said.
Pagourtzis, who was charged as an adult with capital murder and aggravated assault of a public servant and arraigned Friday evening, admitted to the killings after being read his rights, police said in an affidavit. He entered no plea at the arraignment and requested a public defender.
Abbott said authorities had found explosive devices in and near the school, and police reported finding pipe bombs and pressure cookers used in making crude explosive devices. The governor said two “persons of interest” were being interviewed by law enforcement officials.
“It’s impossible to describe the magnitude of the evil of someone who would attack innocent children in a school,” Abbott said.
This article is reprinted with permission from Talk Media News.
Gary Gately, a seasoned journalist, has won 15 national, regional and local awards for reporting and writing news, investigative, public service, feature, business and travel pieces. Gately’s work has been published by The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun (where he worked in reporting and editing jobs for 11 years), Baltimore Examiner, the Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Newsweek, Arrive Magazine, The Center for Public Integrity, CBSNews.com, CNBC.com, ABCNews.com, USAToday.com, HealthDay, The Crime Report, United Press International and numerous other newspapers, websites and magazines.
His coverage has received awards from the Associated Press, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association and the Society of American Travel Writers (first-place Lowell Thomas Award for best newspaper travel story/U.S.-Canada (immigrant New York).
Gately also has extensive experience editing for newspapers and websites, has taught college journalism courses in news writing, magazine writing and travel writing and is the author of Maryland: Anthem to Innovation, a book on the state’s history, industries and attractions.