As hundreds of students gathered Tuesday in the chapel of a Regina Christian high school, their morning prayers were shattered by an angry former classmate who barged into the service brandishing a weapon.
More than 450 students at Luther College looked on as the youth, who students said had been expelled the previous year, held a pastor at gunpoint and made him read a letter. The students sat terrified on the stands in the chapel, which is also the school’s gym, before many were able to escape.
“Some on the ends, we negotiated with the suspect to ask if they could leave and then waved them out. Others we waved out when his back was turned,” said principal Mark Anderson.
Police, including a SWAT team, converged on the school after receiving a 911 call. Cruisers, with their lights flashing, blocked off in the area.
Inside the school, Anderson approached the young man slowly, talking with him.
“Sometimes I was just trying to calm him down … other times I was suggesting to him that I didn’t think he wanted to hurt anybody and that he should just stop and put the gun down,” said Anderson. “I wasn’t sneaking up on him. I was being completely upfront about it. I was talking to him, (I’d) take another step, let him talk, let our chaplain read a bit more of what he was being asked to read, and I’d walk up a little closer and a little closer,” he said. “He saw me coming the whole time.”
When Anderson got closer, he saw that the weapon wasn’t a handgun.
“I took that opportunity to try to take the firearm away from him, or the pellet gun away from him. We wrestled over it for … a couple seconds,” said Anderson.
As the takedown unfolded, students, some crying, ran out of Luther College. Police streamed into the school and conducted a room-by-room search. Worried parents rushed to the scene to make sure their kids were safe.
Some, like Larry Geni, spoke to their children on cellphones. “They just said that there was a student in there that had a gun and was yelling threats,” said Geni, whose son and daughter attend Luther. “You just hope that he’s not shooting any student at all in the school.”
No shots were fired and no one was injured.
At least one student captured a brief segment of the incident on cellphone video and submitted it to CTV. The video shows the youth, with bleached-blonde hair or a blonde wig, wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, waving his arms around and moving his feet side to side, clearly agitated. Staff members are standing around him as he talks and they appear to be trying to keep the gunman calm.
Late Tuesday, Regina police charged a 16-year-old boy with two counts of pointing a firearm, possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, uttering threats and forcible confinement. He is scheduled to appear Wednesday in youth court.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Regina police Chief Troy Hagen confirmed the weapon seized was a carbon dioxide pellet pistol. Hagen paid tribute to the composure shown by students and staff at the school.
“These incidents are obviously significant to our community and obviously not something we see often. We have not had an incident of this nature within any of our schools that anyone can remember certainly, so it’s an isolated incident. “We are satisfied with the response that was employed and also by the fact that it ended peacefully with no injuries to either students, staff or the general public or the suspect himself.”
Anderson could not speak about why the student was asked to leave Luther. “Obviously you just don’t expel a student for no reason at all.”
The suspect was initially spotted by Luther College vice-principal Nancy Ostime, who saw him enter through a back door. “I called to him to stop and not to go into the gym and he (ran) past me and ran into the gym and then I knew he was there for no good reason,” said Ostime. “I knew he was not meant to be there.”
“I was worried and on alert and ran upstairs and called 911,” she said.
Founded in the early 1900s, Luther College offers both a high school and university. The school’s website says the goal is to develop the individual as a whole by providing a quality liberal education within a Christian context. Students are encouraged to develop intellectual skills to enrich their personal lives and enhance their ability to serve others, the website says.
The Regina scare came as the world’s attention was already focused on school violence. Earlier Tuesday, a masked gunman in Finland opened fire at a trade school, killing 10 people before fatally shooting himself, authorities said.
Witnesses said panic broke out as the gunman, dressed in black and carrying a large bag, entered the school in Kauhajoki and started firing in a classroom where students were taking an exam.
Luther College was not the only Saskatchewan school to go on alert Tuesday. RCMP in North Battleford said the Sakewew High School was locked down after reports of someone heading toward the building with a gun. Police quickly found the individual and realized he was not armed.
Anderson, who has taught at Luther College since 1988, said his focus was on the students throughout the ordeal. “I think you are just thinking of a responsibility to students’ safety,” said Anderson. “I was not the only one. The students were great, the faculty was great, the staff were great, the vice principals were great. Everybody was doing exactly what they should be doing.”
-a report from the Canadian Press