Students at Sparks Middle School were preparing to start their first day back at class Monday after a week off for fall break.
Dozens of them gathered on the playground and basketball court in this working-class community east of Reno when they heard a popping noise.
Within three minutes, a teacher and a student were dead, two other students were wounded and another American community was grappling with the terror of a school shooting.
This time, authorities said, the shooter was a student himself, an eighth-grader who came to campus with a handgun and opened fire on a fellow student on the playground, then shot a teacher and another student before apparently shooting himself.
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“He shot a student, and then a teacher tried to stop him and he shot the teacher,” said Abner Lopez, father of a 13-year-old eighth-grader who knew the boy and the teacher who was killed.
“The kids kind of scattered. School was not open yet, so they ran off into the field. It’s a pretty tragic scene.”
Lopez said his son, Abner Jr., realized something was wrong when he heard the first gunshots.
“He just heard the gunshots,” Lopez said. “Then he saw the teacher telling him to calm down, to put the gun down, and that’s when he shot the teacher.”
Lopez said his son was in the teacher’s math class along with the suspected shooter. Authorities did not immediately release the names of the school staff member who was was killed or the gunman.
But family members of the slain teacher confirmed his identity to local media as Michael Landsberry, a 45-year-old eighth-grade math teacher, soccer coach and former Marine who marked his fifth wedding anniversary last Friday.
A young, red-eyed woman who answered the door at Landsberry’s Reno home said the family did not want to talk to the media.
Outside, an American flag and a Marine Corps flag flapped on a pole. A car in the driveway boasted a Navy bumper sticker and another reading, “I have one of the Few Good Men.”
Within hours of the shooting, students began posting tributes to Landsberry online, and a “Rest Easy Mr. Landsberry” page created on Facebook had nearly 5,000 “likes” and referred to him as the “best teacher there ever was.”
His class website explained his approach to teaching and offered this advice to students: “I have one classroom rule and it is very simple: Thou shall not annoy Mr. L.”
Landsberry was also a member of the Nevada Army National Guard, which was planning an announcement, although a spokesman said it would not confirm the identity of the slain teacher until the coroner’s office and police officially released the name.
Washoe County Schools Superintendent Pedro Martinez called the slain teacher “our fallen hero” and said his mother was flying to Reno to be with Landsberry’s family.
In an afternoon press briefing, police remained tight-lipped about the identity of the shooter or a possible motive.
Authorities said the two wounded students, both 12, were expected to survive. One was shot in the shoulder, the other in the abdomen, but authorities would not discuss whether they were targeted specifically.
The shooting occurred at 7:16 a.m.; classes were to begin at 7:30.
Police said officers were on scene within three minutes of the first shots and praised the school’s staff and teachers who rushed onto the campus to herd students inside and lock them in classrooms.
“We have a lot of heroes today,” Martinez said.
The incident rattled the Reno area as hundreds of law enforcement officials, many clad in combat-style uniforms, flooded into the area near the middle school, which is adjacent to an elementary school.
Officers remained on the middle school’s campus late into the afternoon, although police tape and barricades slowly disappeared as the day wore on. A cluster of police remained posted outside the school’s front entrance. Behind them, green paint welcomed visitors to Sparks Middle School, “where we value community, effort, respect, safety.”
Nearby, Tony Flores reflected on how the morning’s tragedy unfolded. He ran outside his family’s home when he heard a gunshot, and saw an adult in the school parking lot waving off arriving parents, yelling “Shooting!” over and over.
Flores, whose older daughter graduated from the school last year and whose younger daughter will attend next year, said he then heard four or five shots. Police arrived within minutes, he said – hundreds of them.
“It was like a movie,” said Flores, 45. “We never thought this was going to happen in our area. … Now we see the reality – it happened here.”
He said he planned to sit down with his children and talk about the shooting, as well as how they should act if something happened at their schools. So far, they had been quiet about the incident, he said.
“I bet it’s going to affect them,” he said.
Despite his lingering shock, Flores said he had no reservations about his neighborhood or concerns regarding his family’s safety. But he said the day’s tragedy is more evidence of the need for greater restrictions on guns.
“This is happening all over,” he said. “I believe we need to vote and make our Congress change the laws about guns.”
How the shooter got his hands on a gun was a question on the minds of many in Sparks.
“A 12-year-old with a gun?” Elgin James, who lives across the street from the school, asked incredulously. “I know you can get one anywhere in America, but still.”
One 13-year-old student, still wearing his Sparks Athletics hoodie, said he was talking with friends on the basketball court before school began when he heard a gunshot.
“I heard this loud ‘pop’,” said the boy, whose name is being withheld at the request of his mother because he was a witness to a crime. “I thought it was a firecracker at first.”
He said he then saw a student, whom he did not know, with a gun pointed toward a teacher who was telling the boy to put the gun down. The 13-year-old said he recognized the teacher as Landsberry but said he did not see the man get shot.
As the teen and his friends ran from the campus, he heard four to five more shots. He turned back twice, he said.
“I saw him just standing there and shooting at other students,” he said.
A neighbor who saw the teen and his friends running from campus opened her home to them. About a dozen teens sheltered inside, texting and calling their parents.
The teen’s mother received his text that there had been a shooting at his school and he was safe at a neighbor’s house. When she immediately called him back, he didn’t answer. Hours after they reunited, she remained visibly shaken.
“It’s still emotional for me,” she said, adding later: “Thank God that he is safe.”
The teen said he didn’t have Landsberry as a teacher, but described him as a “positive kind of guy” who was well-liked on campus.
Officials emphasized that there was no continuing threat, although they said the school would remain closed for the rest of the week.
Barbara Clark, president of the Washoe County School District board, said student and staff safety is paramount and more than two dozen counselors were being brought in to help with sessions that began Monday night.
“I want to say how tragic this is and how saddened we are,” Clark said.
Lopez said he was heartened by the rapid response of law enforcement and the school district and that he expected his son to take advantage of the counseling services.
“We want to thank God for our kids and the families, and at the same time also thank the authorities and the school district for the work they did,” he said. “Unfortunately, none of us are prepared for something like this.”