Student in Pa. kills principal, himself

14-year-old was armed with 3 guns, firing shots while classmates watched

April 25, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

RED LION, Pa. - An eighth-grader armed with three revolvers shot and killed the principal of his junior high school, and then himself, in the cafeteria yesterday morning while horrified students watched the gruesome scene that has become as familiar as it is shocking.

With fresh memories of a machete attack on a kindergarten class less than two years ago in the same school district, parents rushed to the Red Lion Area Junior High School as police swarmed the building and students ran screaming.

Three hundred to 400 eighth-graders were gathered in the cafeteria of the school, on the outskirts of York, Pa., about 50 miles north of Baltimore, when the gunfire ended the school day before it ever really began.

The 14-year-old shooter, identified by students and parents as James Sheets, was sitting with his classmates just before homeroom when he silently pulled a revolver from his backpack, stood up and fired at least one shot into the chest of the principal before shooting himself, witnesses said.

The 51-year-old principal, Eugene Segro, who was standing less than five yards from the boy, died a short time later at York Hospital from a single gunshot wound to the chest, said Red Lion Borough Police Chief Walter Hughes.

The Sheets youth died from a single gunshot wound to the head, police said.

Hughes said he knew of no dispute between the boy and the principal or about any trouble the teen-ager might have been having at home or in school. Investigators searched the boy's home, taking "boxes and boxes" of evidence, including the boy's computer, the chief said.

It was unclear yesterday which of the three loaded revolvers the boy had used, Hughes said. The teen-ager apparently had taken a .44-caliber Magnum, a .357-caliber Magnum and a .22-caliber revolver from a locked gun safe belonging to his stepfather, Arthur Baker, Hughes said.

No charges were expected to be filed against the boy's parents, Hughes said. "There's nothing at this point to indicate this rises to the level of a criminal action," the chief said.

Although investigators hadn't confirmed that Segro was the boy's intended target, Hughes said police hadn't found a list or anything to suggest that there were other people the teen-ager intended to shoot.

Matt Walthes, who is in seventh grade at the school and lives in the same Milner Heights neighborhood as the shooter, was walking by the cafeteria just after the principal was shot. He was able to see Sheets just before he shot himself. "He had this look on his face like, `What did I just do?'"

Walthes had seen his neighborhood pal on the school bus that morning. "He looked a little down, but he didn't seem the type to anything like this."

Kristy Williams sat just a few tables away from Sheets when the shots rang out. "He didn't say anything. He just held out the gun. The principal fell over - moaning really loud," said Williams, an eighth-grader. "Everyone was quiet for a few seconds, and I could see [the boy's face]. He just stood there with this look I can't explain, and then he shot himself."

Students said Sheets earned good grades and played football for the school. Parents remembered him sledding with their children. But neighbors were asked by Sheets' mother not to give interviews.

"This is all really sad," said Keith Ojeda, who sat next to Sheets in science class. "Sometimes we also sat together at lunch. We became easy friends. He kept to himself, but he was funny in the same manner."

Segro was liked by students and parents, who recalled how he would stand outside each day waving hello to them, even in the rain. "He's the only principal who lets you ride your skateboard to school. He kept them in his office during classes," said Cody Frey, who is now in 10th grade at the local high school.

Parents and students met with administrators, police and grief counselors yesterday afternoon and evening. Many of them were concerned about security precautions in the local schools.

Surveillance cameras had been installed at entrances and exits after the machete attack in 2001. Police said it was possible that the video cameras in the cafeteria had recorded the shooting.

The school also locked the doors once classes began and had a zero-tolerance policy against bringing weapons to school. A York Regional Police officer was assigned to the high school and junior high early this year. He was at the high school when the shootings occurred, about 7:30 a.m.

"Obviously all that wasn't enough," said Chris Klock, whose son, Zachary, is in seventh grade at the school. "They need metal detectors."

Many students and parents echoed Klock's desire to see the detectors installed. "I think it would really help," said Josh Wagaman, 15.

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