ST. HELENA — Following a fatal shooting at St. Helena College & Career Academy Tuesday, students are left to mourn the death of a classmate and process the unspeakable tragedy.
The incident happened around 3 p.m. Tuesday. According to officials, four students were in a car around dismissal when a 14-year-old gunman opened fire inside the vehicle. The student who died was 15 years old. Two other students were caught in the crossfire, who happened to be in the same vehicle.
One freshman at the school spoke with UWK about what they witnessed.
“School was getting ready to let out, and I heard some commotion outside,” the student recalled. “We didn’t see anything, so we looked outside the window and saw practically the whole school running and screaming. At first, we thought it was maybe a fight or something, but then I saw some teachers running the opposite way from the students.
“It was very traumatic,” the student added. “I didn’t know where they were shooting it. I didn’t know which way to run. Everybody was just kind of panicking.”
The 9th grader said people were crying and screaming when they got outside, explaining that people were shot. After that, police escorted the students to the gym.
“By the time we were able to move away from the hallway, we had to go by them (police) covering up the body,” the student recalled. “We saw a bunch of our classmates, some who were covered in blood, some who were close to the incident.”
In addition to the 15-year-old killed, two other students were injured and showed up at the St. Helena Parish Hospital. One of the victims was a male with multiple gunshot wounds. He was later transported to OLOL Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge. Another victim, a female, was grazed during the shooting. It’s unclear if she was grazed by a bullet or shattered glass.
St. Helena Parish Sheriff Nat Williams said the 14-year-old suspect is in custody. His name is not being released because of his age. He was charged with second-degree murder, two counts of aggravated second-degree battery, and illegal possession of a firearm in a school zone.
Investigators with the St. Helena Parish Sheriff’s Office believe bullying is to blame for the shooting.
“I know the alleged shooter very dearly,” the teen said. “He was one of my classmates. With all the stories getting released, I’ve been seeing that they’re trying to paint him in a certain way like he was this bad person who wanted to terrorize the school, and that’s not what happened. He was a good kid. He didn’t really mess with anybody, but unfortunately, when he felt threatened at that moment, I guess that was the only way he knew how to defend himself.”
Safe at school?
One St. Helena student posted on social media about not feeling safe returning to school after an incident with a teacher during the shooting.
“Yesterday we were told to find a classroom, so me and my friends went to the nearest one trying to force our way in, and a teacher told us to get away from the door, don’t come in here, and she locked us out,” the post said. “A coach witnessed this and told us to go to the next one down. Our safety was at risk, and our teacher was all about herself. I don’t feel safe going back to Helena at all!!”
The witness who spoke with UWK said they experienced something similar.
“I can attest to that claim as well, as one of my teachers took off running and didn’t tell any of the students what was going on or to come with her to safety,” the student said in response to the social media post.
The school is located in Greensburg, with fewer than 700 people living there. The young teen said the community has been split since Tuesday’s shooting.
“Everybody’s trying to understand everybody’s standpoint on it,” the student said. “Some people are saying that the student who lost his life didn’t deserve it, which, of course, he didn’t. Some people are trying to say that the student who did it was defending himself. It has the community kind of split.”
The St. Helena Parish School Board announced that the school is closed until Friday. The football game and school board meeting are canceled. Grief counselors will be available for all students when they return this Friday.