Smiles and hugs have been the dominant theme this week at Freeman High School, as students, staff and parents attempt to move on after the horrific events of last week.
School came back into session on Monday, the first day after 15-year-old suspect Caleb Sharpe opened fire on classmates – killing one and injuring three – on Sept. 13.
Monday’s school day was unusual, as parents were allowed to spend the day with their children. There was also an assembly and shortened classes.
Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers also visited to meet with faculty.
“It was powerful to stop by Freeman High School,” she wrote on Facebook. “The faculty and staff are amazing people and I will be forever grateful for them.”
She also vowed to seek federal funding for the school for continued counseling.
A need for talk – and working out exactly what happened on the second floor of the school that morning – may still be a long time coming for those who witnessed the events following the suspect’s arrival.
Sharpe – after the quick action of custodian Joe Bowen, who convinced the suspect to surrender – was taken into custody by the school resource officer and is now booked into the Spokane County Juvenile detention Center for one count of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder.
The incident, which occurred shortly after 10 a.m., quickly drew a number of first-response vehicles, media and parents, clogging State Route 27 to the school’s South Jackson Road location. As frustrated parents parked their cars at the side of the road and raced to the school on foot, ambulances raced the surviving victims – two 14-year-old girls, one 15 – to Sacred Heart Hospital. All three are expected to recover, and two visited the high school Monday.
The student killed was sophomore Sam Strahan, who contacted Sharpe initially. The suspect, after taking the bus to school with weapons in a duffel bag, apparently had trouble loading an AR-style rifle. That’s when Strahan confronted Sharpe, who then shot the teen twice with a handgun.
After the shooter was secured, the school was cleared of students, who were moved to the football field. Law enforcement – which included officers from Spokane County, the Washington State Patrol and Spokane Police Department – searched the school to make sure the building was secured, said Deputy Mark Gregory, spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
That evening, several candlelight vigils were staged as Freeman students, friends, family and staff began the healing process. The next night, thousands gathered for a community meeting at the high school for an update from Freeman Superintendent Randy Russell.
“We’re all hurting,” he said. “It hurts. It cuts right down to the core…we’ve got a tough road ahead. We’ve got to be looking out for each other.”
Also on Sept. 14, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich called a press conference at the Public Safety Building and chastised the media for focusing on the perpetrators of such acts.
“You, media, are to blame,” Knezovich said. “You keep using headlines and keep giving them names…you need to help us end this violence.”
The sheriff also said that society has changed since his was young, and that there is an overemphasis and glorification of violence.
“I carried a gun all my life. My friends and I, when it’s hunting season back home when I was in high school, all those rigs had a gun in the gun rack,” Knezovich said. “None of those guns ever walked into a school. None of those guns ever shot anybody.”
As for whether there were signs that were missed – Sharpe reportedly had a fascination with school shootings, had threatened suicide and had been recently suspended for writing threatening notes – the sheriff said: “They’re always missed.”
He added, however, that society has made “doing the right thing the wrong thing” and that fellow students are often reluctant to be labeled a “snitch” for speaking up.
Anyone who has any further information regarding this incident is urged to call Crime Check at 456-2233.