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Hector Amezcua / hamezcua@sacbee.com

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Police withholding identity of Sparks Middle School shooter

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013 - 10:00 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 - 7:45 am

Citing “respect for his grieving parents,” the Police Department said Tuesday it has no plans to publicly identify the 12-year-old boy who opened fire on the blacktop of Sparks Middle School two days ago, leaving unanswered a critical question in the wake of a shooting that claimed the lives of a popular math teacher and the juvenile gunman himself.

Authorities said they still do not know what drove the seventh-grader to bring a Ruger 9mm semi-automatic handgun with him to the school east of Reno on Monday, although some students have told local media outlets that bullying might have been a factor. If police have any insights into the boy’s motive, they are keeping quiet, citing an ongoing investigation.

The boy wounded two fellow students – both are expected to survive – and fatally shot teacher Michael Landsberry before turning the gun on himself.

“Everybody wants to know why – that’s the big question,” said Deputy Chief Tom Miller, who is leading the department as acting chief. “The answer is, we don’t know right now, but we are proactively trying to determine why.”

Even as answers remained elusive Tuesday, the loss suffered the previous day is coming into focus.

Landsberry’s Nevada Air National Guard family gathered to recall the 45-year-old’s history of service to his country and his community.

“This is an extremely painful day for the Nevada Air National Guard,” said Col. Jeffrey Burkette, commander of the Guard’s Reno base. “The community has lost one of its true heroes.”

Landsberry, a Marine Corps veteran, enlisted in the Guard in 2001, the same year he began teaching in Washoe County schools. He left his teaching job for a deployment to Kuwait in 2006, when he started at Sparks Middle School, and then for a deployment to Afghanistan in 2011. Over the years, he earned more than two dozen awards and decorations, according to Guard officials, while simultaneously building his reputation as a beloved math teacher.

Fellow airmen joked that Landsberry’s loyalty to the Corps shone through often – but so did his loyalty to his students, whom he often referred to as his “kids.”

So it came as no surprise to anyone that he tried to intervene when the 12-year-old began his shooting spree about 7:15 a.m. Monday. After the boy shot one student in the shoulder in an outdoor hallway, police say Landsberry calmly approached the gunman, hands up, and tried to stop the violence. Instead, he took a fatal bullet to the chest.

Landsberry was acting “true to hero’s form,” Burkette said.

“He was trying to save the children,” he said. “He was trying to save that child.”

A high school athlete who had lettered in three sports, Landsberry was a “soccer fanatic,” one guardsman said, and a devoted coach. At Sparks Middle, he coached boys basketball and girls volleyball. At Sparks High School, he was the girls soccer coach.

Fellow airmen said he was a “math whiz,” a lover of science fiction and a particular fan of anything Batman. He recently celebrated his fifth wedding anniversary and enjoyed a close relationship with his two stepdaughters, they said. One of the young women, continuing her father’s legacy of military service, is expected to graduate from Navy boot camp soon.

Senior Master Sgt. Robert Garrett, air terminal operations supervisor, stood glassy eyed as he remembered Landsberry as a close friend and gifted subordinate.

“I outranked him,” he said, “but he still taught me many, many things.”

Asked what quality Landsberry most embodied, Garrett replied, “dedication.”

“I hope everybody remembers how he was there to protect his kids,” he said.

In their last scheduled news conference, Sparks police lauded the teacher for his courage – which they said likely afforded many students the time to run from the campus before further gunfire – and that of staff members, who acted quickly on their training and locked the campus down.

Washoe County schools police Chief Mike Mieras said the gunman attempted to get inside the school building but could not because doors had been locked.

After shooting Landsberry, police say the gunman turned around, shot another 12-year-old student and then shot himself. The two wounded students are listed in stable condition.

Miller, the Sparks police chief, said investigators are still tracing the gun used in the attack, but the boy found it at his home. Miller said that it will be up to local prosecutors to decide whether the parents face any criminal charges but that “the potential is there.”

The parents are cooperating with investigators, he said.

Sparks Middle will remain closed for the rest of the week, but school officials said they will start slowly reintroducing teachers and other staff members to the campus in coming days. Washoe County schools Superintendent Pedro Martinez said officials are discussing a vigil for Thursday.

“This is a tragedy, and it’s going to take us awhile to heal from it,” Martinez said.

In the meantime, two small memorials are growing on campus. An armed officer stood watch over one of them Monday night, as community members quietly stopped by with candles and stuffed teddy bears, some wiping away tears.

The other, behind the school, has grown around a sign that reads, “We are with you.”

Read more articles by Kim Minugh



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