Families waited, hopeful and afraid, after Oregon school shooting
TROUTDALE, Ore. (AP) — They stopped in fire lanes, on medians, in spaces so tight one man wedged his sedan between two cars and climbed out of his sun roof. They double-, triple- or quadruple-parked, spilling into driveways and crosswalks, disregarding every traffic law.
The loved ones of the children at Reynolds High School in the Portland, Oregon, suburb of Troutdale knew that a student was shot to death during the second-to-last day of school. And they knew the shooter was dead.
They also knew that the 3,000 children who survived would be waiting for them at a grocery store parking lot a mile away.
Details spilled out in fits and starts on Tuesday. The shooting started in a gym detached from the main school building. A 14-year-old boy named Emilio Hoffman was fatally shot in the boys’ locker room. Physical education teacher Todd Rispler also was in the gym and was grazed by a bullet.
But he escaped serious injury and managed to alert school officials of the shooter.
“This is a lockdown,” the school announced over the speaker system, according to junior Andrea Chanocua. “This is not a drill.”
Locked in a classroom, sophomore Dominic Senarsky, 16, said he followed the police response by listening to scanner traffic with a phone app.
“I was scared, because we were listening directly to it, so we knew everything that was going on,” he said.
The shooting broke out as the school day started and students prepared to take final exams. Senarsky was studying for his test in health class when he heard teachers yelling to get into a classroom.
“I didn’t think this was how I was going to end the year,” he said.
Nearby, in the grocery store parking lot, parents waited for three hours or more. Details were frustratingly thin.
Chanocua, 16, didn’t bring a cellphone to school. Her mother saw the commotion on television, but doesn’t speak English, so she was at a loss until her sister-in-law, Laurie Garcia, came home from work.
Garcia rushed to the parking lot and waited, along with hundreds of others. Once the school buses of students started arriving, parents craned their necks to see who stepped off.
The first students spilled off the buses around 11 a.m. They were crying or smiling through tears, some with eyes shut tight or shocked wide open.
The thing they all shared was a look, even for a moment, of happy recognition. Then the kids collapsed into their parents’ waiting arms, accepted a grateful backslap or shrugged their shoulders and grinned with embarrassment.
Chanocua was happy to find her aunt.
“You’re OK,” Laurie Garcia said, who grabbed and pulled Chanocua to her. “You’re OK.”
In the aftermath, the governor called the violence senseless, the Troutdale mayor praised the police response, and the school district superintendent said she had once hoped she could get through her career without a school shooting.
Hoffman, who died, was the only teenage boy in his house, said Savannah Venegas, who dated him a year ago, “so (his mother) was very protective of him.”
“He was such a good kid, a quiet kid,” Venegas said. “He didn’t stir up trouble. Just a down-to-earth guy.”
The shooter was later found dead in a separate bathroom. Police didn’t release many details of the shooting, but said he used a rifle.
Perhaps no school district better reflects the changing face of Oregon than the one in Troutdale. This was not a shooting at a school in the posh suburbs or the inner city. Reynolds High School is harder to categorize.
The school draws from a diverse group, including far-east residents of Portland and agricultural families from the Columbia Gorge.
“This is a tragedy that affects our whole community,” Troutdale Police Chief Scott Anderson said. “This is not supposed to happen in any school, or to any child.”