RICHMOND, Ind. — Students and staff escaped injury during a shooting incident at a middle school in Indiana on Thursday morning that ended when the teenage suspect died by suicide.
Richmond Police Department Chief Jim Branum said police and school officials were notified that an armed individual was heading to Dennis Intermediate School with the intention of hurting people.
Officers arrived at the scene at about the same time as the suspect, leading to an exchange of gunfire at the north door.
The suspect then fled inside the building, where he eventually was located in the south stairwell on the second floor.
There was another exchange of gunfire before the teen killed himself, according to Branum.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the suspect was struck by any of the bullets fired by officers. The Indiana State Police will investigate the officer-involved shooting, Branum said.
By 9 a.m., Richmond Community Schools had declared the building was secure.
"The police response was exactly as it should have been," Branum said. "Everybody here was prepared for a confrontation."
With the school on lockdown, the suspect couldn't get into any of the classrooms, something that likely saved the lives of students and staff, according to Branum.
"It is important to emphasize that due to the result of advance notification of the potential for a violent act at the school, the school had initiated their lockdown procedure, which clearly prevented injury to students and faculty even though the suspect was able to enter the school," ISP said in a statement.
North West Seventh Street near the school was packed with emergency vehicles. Law enforcement on the scene included Richmond Police Department, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, the Indiana State Police, off-duty officers, the Richmond Fire Department and more. The county’s mobile command unit was set up in the parking lot on the school’s south side.
Students were being taken from the building in single-file lines with a police escort to the waiting buses, some of which have started to leave for RHS.
RCS Communication Coordinator Bridget Hazelbaker said all students and staff were safe, and so were the officers involved, according to Branum.
A statement from the office of Mayor Dave Snow said personnel from the Richmond Fire Department and Critical Stress Team were taking care of those affected by the shooting by "assessing and assisting students and staff with personal, physical or mental issues that may arise after a crisis. These include asthma attacks, panic attacks and critical stress."
All Richmond Community Schools buildings were placed on lockdown as a precaution, but the other schools eventually resumed classes and will follow regular dismissal times. All intermediate school athletic practices and contests scheduled for Thursday were canceled.
There also was a police presence elsewhere on the city's west side. Officers from the Indiana State Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were waiting outside of 165 S.W. 16th St., believed to be the home of the shooter. Just before noon, they were preparing to enter the residence, which had crime-scene tape around the perimeter of the front yard.
Rachel Ventura, the parent of a sixth- and an eighth-grader at Dennis, expressed her frustration over the incident.
“I’m mad. I’m scared. The kids have been talking about this kid for a week,” she said. “They (administrators) look past things. They don’t think this is going to happen, and then it happens.”
Pam Sexton was dropping off her sixth-grader, Shaylon, just as the incident took place.
“It was terrifying. My daughter had just walked in, and I thought she would be a target in the hallway,” she said. “I’m still shaking. I can see it on the news, but it’s scary when it’s your own baby.”
Sexton texted her daughter and had to wait a few minutes before getting a reply back that she was safe. Sexton was still outside the school as her daughter was loaded onto a bus. The two were able to wave to each other.
Northeastern Wayne Schools Superintendent Laura Blessing issued a statement saying the buildings at her district will be on lockdown today.
"As a result of this tragedy, Northeastern has implemented a lockdown at its school system as both a preventative measure as well as to calm our students on this shocking event," she said.
"Northeastern has students at the Richmond Area Career Center who we have confirmed are safe and in lockdown at their building. They will return to our campus later today."
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a statement saying he had directed state resources to help out.
“We will continue to work with the school and (State) Superintendent Jennifer McCormick to do everything possible to assist the community and support all those impacted by this terrible unfolding situation," he said.
State Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, who will lead the Senate's education committee when the General Assembly returns to work, said his office is monitoring the situation.
"The incident at Dennis Intermediate School earlier today is frightening, and my prayers and thoughts are with the students and their families, teachers and staff," he said. "I am pleased with the work of our law enforcement, who selflessly stepped in to protect our community."