UPDATE: Teacher lauded for efforts to subdue Mattoon High student gunman – Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette
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:
Diana and I are deeply saddened by the shooting that took place today at Mattoon High School, our prayers are with those that are affected.
— Bruce Rauner (@GovRauner) September 20, 2017
Mahomet-Seymour High School, which belongs to the same athletics conference as Mattoon, also sent out a tweet of support:
MSHS sends sincere thoughts out to our friends in the Apollo, Mattoon High School. We are thinking of you in this difficult time.
— Mahomet-Seymour HS (@MSHSBulldogs) September 20, 2017
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.
- Hear from parent John Johnson.
“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.