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story.lead_photo.caption Emergency crews respond to Marshall County High School after a fatal school shooting Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, in Benton, Ky. Authorities said a shooting suspect was in custody. (Ryan Hermens/The Paducah Sun via AP)

BENTON, Ky. — A 15-year-old student killed two classmates and hit a dozen others with gunfire Tuesday, methodically firing a handgun inside a crowded atrium at his rural Kentucky high school.

"He was determined. He knew what he was doing," said Alexandria Caporali, who grabbed her stunned friend and ran into a classroom as their classmates hit the floor.

"It was one right after another — bang bang bang bang bang," she added. "You could see his arm jerking as he was pulling the trigger."

He kept firing, she said, until he ran out of ammunition and took off running, trying to get away. Police arrested their suspect moments later, leading him away in handcuffs to be charged with murder and attempted murder. Authorities did not identify the gunman responsible for the nation's first fatal school shooting of 2018 nor did they release any details about a motive.

Kentucky State Police Lt. Michael Webb said detectives are looking into his home and background.

"He was apprehended by the sheriff's department here on site, at the school, thankfully before any more lives could be taken," Webb said.

Seventeen students were injured, 12 of them hit with bullets and five others hurt in the scramble as hundreds of students fled for their lives from Marshall County High School. Many jumped into cars, or ran across fields and down the highway, some not stopping until they reached a McDonald's restaurant more than 1 mile away. Parents left their cars on both sides of an adjacent road, desperately trying to find their teenagers.

"No one screamed. It was almost completely silent as people just ran," said Caporali, 16. She said most students knew what to do because they are drilled throughout the year on how to respond to an active shooter at school.

The two fatalities were 15 years old: A girl died at the scene, and a boy died later at a hospital, Gov. Matt Bevin said, adding that all of the victims are believed to be students. Five young men, including three with gunshot wounds to head and one shot in chest, were flown about 120 miles to Nashville, Tenn.'s Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The attack marked the year's first fatal school shooting, 23 days into 2018, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, which relies on media reports and other information. The anti-violence group Everytown for Gun Safety has counted at least 283 shootings at schools since 2013.

The governor and several people in Benton said they couldn't believe a mass shooting would happen in their small, close-knit town. But many such shootings across the nation have happened in rural communities.

Marshall County High School is about 30 minutes from Heath High School in Paducah, Ky., where a 1997 mass shooting killed three and injured five. Michael Carneal, then 14, opened fire there about two years before the fatal attack at Columbine High School in Colorado, ushering in an era when mass school shootings have become much more common.

Meanwhile, in the small North Texas town of Italy, a 15-year-old girl was recovering Tuesday after police said she was shot by a 16-year-old classmate in her high school cafeteria on Monday, sending dozens of students scrambling for safety. Police in Louisiana, meanwhile, are investigating shots fired Monday as students gathered outside their charter school.

"It's horrifying that we can no longer call school shootings 'unimaginable' because the reality is they happen with alarming frequency," said former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived being shot in the head in 2011. She called on Congress to strengthen gun laws.

Tuesday's shooting, moments before classes would have begun, disrupted some happy moments in the noisy "commons" area at the center of the school, where several hallways meet and students gather between classes.

Lexie Waymon, 16, said she and a friend were talking about the next basketball game, makeup and eyelashes when gunshots pierced the air.

"I blacked out. I couldn't move. I got up and I tried to run, but I fell. I heard someone hit the ground. It was so close to me," Waymon said. "I just heard it, and then I just, everything was black for a good minute. Like, I could not see anything. I just froze and did not know what to do. Then I got up and I ran."

Her friend, Baleigh Culp, told the AP in a text message that they were joking and laughing until they heard a loud bang that sounded like someone's books hitting the floor.

"That's what i expected it to be, until i saw a body drop on the ground," Culp wrote. "There was bullets flying everywhere. I ran straight out the door and headed to the highway as fast as i could."

Waymon did not stop running either, not even when she called her mom to tell her what happened. She made it to the McDonald's, her chest hurting, struggling to breathe. "All I could keep thinking was, 'I can't believe this is happening. I cannot believe this is happening,'" she said.

It was chaotic outside the school as parents and students rushed around trying to find each other, said Dusty Kornbacher, who owns a nearby floral shop. "All the parking lots were full with parents and kids hugging each other and crying and nobody really knowing what was going on," she said.

"They was running and crying and screaming," said Mitchell Garland, who provided shelter to between 50 and 100 students inside his nearby business. "Everyone is just scared. Just terrified for their kids," he added. "We're a small town. and we know a lot of the kids."

Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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  • LRDawg
    January 23, 2018 at 11:34 a.m.

    GenMac, jaywalking???

  • carpenterretired
    January 23, 2018 at 11:43 a.m.

    America land of the NRA.

  • JakeTidmore
    January 23, 2018 at 3:16 p.m.

    "A 15-year-old student opened fire after entering a Kentucky high school today, leaving two students dead and a dozen wounded. The shooter is in custody. Motivation not yet known, but it was the ninth school shooting in 23 days of 2018."
    9th SCHOOL shooting. Kids bringing guns to SCHOOL.

    "Everytown for Gun Safety has counted at least 283 shootings at schools since 2013."
    283 shootings at SCHOOLS in FIVE YEARS - average of 50+ PER YEAR!! Kids being killed at their SCHOOL by guns.
    14 Mass Shootings (USA) so far this year - averaging 2 every 3 days.
    25 Mass Shootings (USA) in last 34 days - averaging 5 every 7 days.
    More specific info:
    ht tp://w ww.gunviolencearchive.o r g/mass-shooting

  • tngilmer
    January 23, 2018 at 3:47 p.m.

    Fake news story. The school is a gun free zone and it is illegal for a 15 year old to possess a handgun. Gun control works, right leftists?

  • BoudinMan
    January 23, 2018 at 4:36 p.m.

    Incidents like this sure bring out the looney tunes and crazies. Not to mention the NRA apologists.

  • JakeTidmore
    January 23, 2018 at 4:47 p.m.

    Like gilmurder??

  • Packman
    January 23, 2018 at 5:52 p.m.

    The bodies of the dead are still warm and the shameless twits (LRDawg, carpenter, tidmore, Boudib) are playing politics about gun control. Shameless twits.

  • wildblueyonder
    January 23, 2018 at 5:52 p.m.

    You're right about bringing out the looneys, BM, four of you responded.

  • gagewatcher
    January 23, 2018 at 7:19 p.m.

    since its illegal for a 15 year old to have a gun and illegal to have one in appears this kid got his hands on an illegal gun. sort of like the thugs that are killing their brothers in little rock. you can not regulate crazy or stupid

  • JakeTidmore
    January 23, 2018 at 11:01 p.m.

    Letting guns become so prevalent that kids are now doing mass shootings in school is about politics you jerks. It was your politics that let it happen. You are such pompous asses when it comes to this problem and especially denying responsibility for letting these situations come about and for blocking any reasonable chance for a solution.
    The blood is on your hands. Don't give us those wimpy, whiny cries about "politics" and spouting off about "libruls" being the bad guys. BSers do that.
    Cold-blooded murder with guns and you say it's not about guns at all. How did you get so stupid?!!!! Folks like you give lunatics a bad name.
    Just killing each other with guns and you idiotically say, "Don't talk about the guns. Ignore them. They didn't do any of the killing. You just be politicking!"
    You'd prefer that nothing gets done to save future lives. You prefer to have dead kids than to find a sensible prevention to how easy it is for them to get guns.
    Blood. On. Your. Hands.
    And some of you dare profane the pro-life movement with your hypocrisy. Hell is too good for slime like you guys.