A student opened fire at Great Mills High School in southern Maryland on Tuesday morning, critically injuring two other students before he was confronted by a school resource officer, according to the St. Mary's County sheriff's office.
The officer and gunman exchanged fire in a hallway, authorities said. They said the gunman was fatally wounded, but it was not clear whether he was shot by the officer or hit by his own round.
Sheriff Timothy Cameron said at a news conference that the 17-year-old shooter and two students, ages 16 and 14, were rushed to the hospital in critical condition. The school resource officer, who doubles as a SWAT team member, was not injured, the sheriff said.
The shooter, identified as Austin Rollins, was pronounced dead at 10:41 a.m., Cameron said.
"On this day, we realized our worst nightmare," Cameron said at the news conference. "Our children were attacked in a bastion of safety. ... The notion that it can't happen here is no longer a notion."
MedStar St. Mary's Hospital said in a statement that the 14-year-old boy was in "good condition." The 16-year-old girl was stabilized and transferred to UM Prince George's Hospital Center, Medstar said.
Authorities didn't release a motive but said they believe that the girl and Rollins previously had a relationship.
While police did not identify the victims, the family of 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey, a sophomore at Great Mills, confirmed that she had been shot.
Jaelynn is one of nine siblings, according to a statement from the family, and a member of the swim team.
"Jaelynn is an amazing young lady, whose peaceful presence and love of her fellow students and family is known throughout her Maryland-based school," the family statement said.
The shooting rocked a nation still reeling from the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people at a Florida high school by a gunman with an assault-style weapon. Students across the country have planned an anti-gun violence march for this weekend at the nation's capital.
Politicians responded swiftly to the Maryland shooting, acknowledging that it increased the pressure for action.
"We sympathize. We empathize. We have moments of silence. But we don't have action," said the No. 2 U.S. House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, who represents the area. "Wringing our hands is not enough."
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said that at a minimum, universal background checks and a ban on assault-style weapons are needed. He said he believes momentum is building for an overhaul of gun policies, fueled by student activism.
In this case, it appeared the shooter illegally possessed the gun. In Maryland, a person must be 21 to possess a handgun, unless carrying one is required for employment. It's not clear how Rollins obtained the weapon.
Attempts to reach his family were unsuccessful.
Maryland's Senate joined the House on Monday night in voting to ban bump stocks, which enable a semi-automatic rifle to mimic a fully automatic weapon. Teachers union leaders issued statements Tuesday saying that more policies must be changed nationwide to keep schools safe.
One of the shooter's friends, 14-year-old Jordan Hutchinson, and his mother dropped off a condolence card at the Rollins home.
Jordan recalled meeting Rollins five years ago during a snowstorm and playing together, building snow forts.
"Austin was a nice kid. We did sleepovers all the time," he said.
The sheriff praised the school resource officer, Deputy 1st Class Blaine Gaskill, a six-year veteran in his first year at the high school, for containing the situation in less than a minute.
"He had to cover significant ground," Cameron said. "The premise is simple: You go to the sound of gunfire."
Students endured a lengthy lockdown, cowering inside classrooms and a locker room while officers worked to make sure there were no more threats on campus.
Eventually, the students were escorted outside and taken to another school to be reunited with their parents.
The school has about 1,600 students and is near the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, about 65 miles southeast of Washington.
Just last month, the St. Mary's County sheriff's office said it arrested two teenage boys over "threats of mass violence" and a 39-year-old man on related charges after the teens made threats about a potential school shooting at Leonardtown High School. Police said they obtained a search warrant that led to them finding semi-automatic rifles, handguns and other weapons, along with ammunition.
Information for this article was contributed by Dana Hedgpeth, Justin Jouvenal, Lynh Bui, Donna St. George, Debbi Truong, Rachel Weiner, Joe Heim and Ovetta Wiggins of The Washington Post and by Matthew Barakat, Jesse J. Holland, Alex Brandon, Courtney Columbus, David McFadden, Sarah Rankin, Alan Suderman and Brian Witte of The Associated Press.
A Section on 03/21/2018
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