PHILIPPI, W.Va. (AP) — With 29 terrified students looking on, a West Virginia high school teacher managed to calm a 14-year-old student who pointed a gun at her in her classroom, giving a police chief time to arrive and convince the boy to free his peers and surrender, authorities said.
No one was hurt Tuesday in the hostage-taking drama that rocked a high school in the small Appalachian town of Philippi, home to about 3,000 people some 115 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
It was the ninth day of the new school year, and some students said they didn’t believe it at first when a so-called “code red” alert was raised.
State Police Lt. Michael Baylous said it began after 1 p.m. Tuesday with the student taking a pistol into a second-floor classroom at Philip Barbour High School, a drab brown campus in a rural area of tree-peppered rolling hills. He wouldn’t say what spurred the hostage-taking, citing an ongoing investigation.
But praise followed quickly for the teacher and police chief who helped bring the ordeal to a safe conclusion.
Without naming the teacher, Barbour County Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Woofter credited her for maintaining control just when classes were about to change. Woofter also praised the local police chief for getting quickly to the scene and talking the suspect into giving up.
The teacher talked the boy into not allowing the next group of students to enter the classroom. Alerted by those students, another teacher told school administrators, who then called 911.
“The teacher did a miraculous job, calming the student, maintaining order in the class,” Woofter said.
The entire situation was contained in about two or three hours, police said. Meanwhile, the rest of the 724-student body was safely evacuated to the bleachers of the football stadium, where they awaited rides home.
Kayla Smith, a 17-year-old senior, said initially no one in her classroom in the same building took the “code red” warning seriously.
“Then we all held hands and said a prayer,” she said.
Woofter said Philippi Police Chief Jeff Walters negotiated the release of the students from the classroom and eventually got the suspect to surrender a few hours after it began.
Walters “did an awesome job negotiating with this very troubled young man,” Woofter said.
Barbour County Prosecutor Leckta Poling said she plans to pursue unspecified charges against the suspect, who was taken to a hospital for evaluation. Poling said that because the case involves a juvenile, the court process would be closed. Police haven’t identified the student.
Steve Saltis was among several anxious parents who went to the school and waited outside an area cordoned off by police tape while waiting for students to be released. Saltis said by phone that his daughter attends the school and that “a lot” was going through his mind while he waited for her to head home.
Saltis said many students had been sitting in the school’s football stadium after the school was evacuated and that he was able to talk to his daughter. But Saltis said law enforcement officials told parents nothing while the suspect was still in the school.
“I think that’s the scariest I’ve been in a long time,” Saltis said later.
Woofter, a former sheriff who started his new job as schools superintendent on July 1, credited parents for heeding police warnings to stay away from the school.
“In such a trying time, I was just amazed at our parents and how everybody responded to the situation,” Woofter said. “I just thank God everybody is safe and hopefully we’ll never have a repeat of that again.”
State Police Capt. Dave Reider said there will be an increased law enforcement presence at the school Wednesday. He said the school will be open but the start of classes will be delayed by two hours.
Associated Press writer John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this report.
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