A shooting in West Liberty-Salem High School on Friday morning left one student critically injured and a tight-knit, rural community where most families know each other badly shaken.
Logan Cole, a 16-year-old high school junior, remained in Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus in the pediatric intensive care unit after suffering more than one shotgun wound. A Facebook post by Logan’s dad, Ryan Cole, said the teen is in critical but stable condition. A second student, 17, also was hurt by part of a shot but those injuries were not life-threatening, officials said.
A 17-year-old suspect is in custody at a juvenile detention center but Champaign County Sheriff Matt Melvin and Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi wouldn’t release his name.
“This kind of stuff just does not happen here,” said Emily Thornburg, a West Liberty parent.
Deputies executed a search warrant Friday evening in the 3900 block of Sink Hole Road, believed to be the alleged teen shooter’s home. The suspect is expected to be in juvenile court on Monday.
Cole was a random target, Melvin said, and the suspect intended to do more harm.
The district had no indications of a looming threat, West-Liberty Salem Superintendent Kraig Hissong said.
“I am not sure if we have answers why,” he said.
The shooting occurred about 7:30 a.m. Friday in a hallway. Few other details were released and it’s unclear if school will resume on Monday.
Melvin credited school staff members for acting quickly and preventing further injuries.
“On our arrival they had the threat neutralized,” Melvin said. “They had him pinned down on the ground.”
Students told harrowing stories of smashing through classroom windows and sprinting across cold, muddy fields before finding help in neighboring homes. Students in other parts of the campus further from the shooting described running through the halls toward the exit or huddling in classrooms.
The morning bell had just rung when students heard a loud noise, senior Ashley Rabenstein. They didn’t initially realize it was gunfire. At first she thought it was noise from crews finishing construction on the new high school.
“My teacher went out in the hallway to see what was going on and he ran back inside, slammed the door shut and he said ‘I think there’s a shooter,’” Rabenstein said.
In one classroom, a student busted out a window and everyone jumped out, senior Claire Harr said.
“Half of us lost our shoes,” she said. “We ran through gravel and mud and cornfields but thankfully we’re all OK and we’re going to get through this together. We ran as far as we possibly could.”
Freshman Barik Ray learned of the shooting when a student ran inside his classroom and told them of the danger.
“We all went in a corner and hunkered down,” Ray said. “We realized that we needed to get out because (the shooter) was pretty close. We went over to the windows, opened them and busted out the screens and we all just took off as far as we could go really.”
Students in Elias Kirker-Napiorkowski’s French class learned an active shooter was in the building from an announcement over the intercom. They assumed it was a drill at first, the junior said, and didn’t take it completely seriously.
They locked doors and covered windows but heard a second announcement a short time later that it wasn’t a drill. Kirker-Napiorkowski could hear yells from other students through the classroom walls. His class eventually ran out into the hallway and out the door once they realized the shooter was in another part of the building.
Once the suspect was in custody, the district began filling buses with the nearly 1,200 students from the K-12 campus and taking them to meet their parents gathered at Lion’s Club Ballpark.
Hundreds of parents and other family members stood at the park for hours in a steady, cold drizzle waiting for the buses. They hugged their children tightly when they finally arrived.
Some parents had trouble believing the news of the shooting in the moments after it began. Jennifer Kirkham, who had two students at the campus, said it didn’t immediately sink in when her sophomore daughter called her hysterically from a cell phone.
“I made her repeat it three times,” Kirkham said. “It didn’t process.”
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Her daughter called her after climbing through a window and running to a nearby farmhouse. She said she’s concerned it will be difficult for her 8-year-old son to return to the campus soon.
“I just want to hug them and not let them go all weekend,” Kirkham said.
Several students described Logan, the victim, as a bright, caring student who’s active in several extra-curricular activities in the district.
“He’s my best friend and one of the best people I know,” Kirker-Napiorkowski said. “He’s very kind, very smart, always there to pray for you, to talk to you if you need it and help you with either homework or life in general.”
Kirker-Napiorkowski is president of his class while Logan serves as vice president. Along with sports, he said Logan’s involved in activities like National Honor Society.
The Cole family declined interview requests Friday but released a statement through the hospital.
“We are thankful for the Lord’s protective hand on our son,” the family said. “We are also grateful for the outpouring of support from our family, friends and community. We would like to ask for continued prayers for Logan. Also, we’d like to encourage prayer for the community, the other student and his family. We are certain they have been deeply hurt as well. We are confident that God has a purpose and plan through this tragedy.”
Fewer than 2,000 people live in the village, which lies on the border of Champaign and Logan counties. The village’s website touts it as a quintessential Midwestern small town with outdoor attractions like caverns and skiing and a variety of antique shops and small stores selling homemade candies. Community members hosted a prayer vigil at Quest Community Church on Friday night.
There’s often a perception that rural schools are less likely to face a school shooting. But the evidence shows otherwise, said Ken Trump of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based national consulting firm specializing in school security.
He urged school leaders to be proactive with education and awareness programs in schools and have candid discussions with students about the consequences of bringing any weapons into the classroom.
“We have been seeing an anecdotal uptick in gun-related school incidents in the headlines the past year or two,” Trump said. “We know that it really doesn’t make a difference whether we are talking about rural, suburban or urban school settings.”
Several parents and students said they regularly hear of similar incidents in the headlines, but never thought a shooting could occur in West Liberty.
Keith Kirker said his son Elias previously attended Urbana schools, but they switched to West Liberty because it was a quieter environment with a good academic reputation. West Liberty often has one of the best results on state report cards in Clark or Champaign counties.
Danielle Borgerding stood in the cold waiting for the buses to drop off her son. She said the district handled the situation well, but was anxious to have her fourth-grade child back in her arms.
“I’ll be fine once I put my hands on him,” Borgerding said.
While the situation was traumatic, it’s important for families to talk honestly with their children about what happened Friday, said Mary Beth DeWitt, a psychologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital.
“We sometimes try to protect our kids from difficult information, but it’s out there and they’re going to want to talk about it,” she said. “It’s important as caregivers, as parents and adults to allow children a safe opportunity to talk about any concerns they may be having and to reassure them our jobs as adults is to keep them safe and secure.”
Staff Writer Michael Clark contributed to this report.
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