In the deadliest school shooting to plague Texas in more than 50 years, a teenager armed with a shotgun and .38-caliber revolver killed 10 people, mostly students, and wounded 10 others during a rampage at Santa Fe High School on Friday morning.
Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, was arrested on a capital murder charge and is being held without bail at the Galveston County Jail.
There are “one or two” other people of interest being interviewed about the shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott said.
It was unclear Friday what the shooter’s motives might have been or whether any of the explosives that were found by authorities at the campus in the city southeast of Houston were detonated during the attack. More explosives were found in surrounding areas, the school district’s police reported.
“This is just the beginning of what will be a very robust response by local, state and federal officials,” Abbott said as he thanked the agencies involved.
The shooting marks the nation’s deadliest such attack since the massacre in Parkland, Fla., that set off a wave of student activism for gun control.
President Donald Trump extended his sympathies and later issued a presidential proclamation ordering flags at federal buildings be flown at half-staff.
“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves, and to others,” Trump said.
Neither of the weapons used in the attack were owned by the gunman but rather his father, who possessed them legally, Abbott said.
“I have no information if the father was aware the son had taken these weapons,” Abbott said.
Explosives, including a “CO2 device” and a Molotov cocktail, were found on the campus, and officers are still combing the scene and other locations for evidence and possible explosive devices left behind by the gunman, Abbott said. Police had search warrants Friday afternoon for two homes and one vehicle, he said.
Three officers confronted attacker
Abbott and other Texas officials praised the quick actions of a school police officer and Texas state trooper, who they said “engaged” the shooter by going into the school during the attack.
“Their actions probably ensured that more lives were not lost,” Abbott said.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said the school police chief arrived shortly after the gunfire started and was able to pull a school police officer, who was critically injured, to safety. The wounded officer was identified as John Barnes by Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who said Barnes was a retired Houston police officer.
“When you get these calls, every police officer, no matter where you are, has to immediately engage the active shooter, period,” McCraw said. “There’s no alternative because every second means someone else’s going to die. In this situation, we had that.”
Officials with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston said Friday afternoon at a news conference that Barnes was shot in the elbow. He was listed as stable after surgery.
Unlike in other recent mass shootings, such as at Parkland or Sutherland Springs, Abbott said there were few warning signs for the shooter’s behavior.
“Here, the red flag warnings were either nonexistent or very imperceptible,” he said.
The “only, if not the foremost warning sign” was an image of a T-shirt that read “Born To Kill” that the suspect posted on his Facebook page, Abbott said. He added that the shooter had no criminal history.
“It’s impossible to describe the magnitude of the evil of someone who would attack innocent children in a school, a place of learning where parents should be able to send their children without fear for their child’s safety,” Abbott said.
The shooter wrote in journals found on his cellphone and computer that he planned to commit suicide after carrying out the attack, but on Friday gave himself up, Abbott said.
“We grieve for the victims who lost their lives at Santa Fe High School, and we pray for the families who are suffering and will continue to suffer in the days to come,” the governor said.
Still, Abbott said, thoughts and prayers are not enough. As he has in recent months, he again called for better background checks and more mental health resources. But Friday, he went a step further.
“It’s time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again in the history of the state,” he said.
Abbott said that, beginning next week, he will work with the Legislature to begin “roundtable discussions” with parents, students, educators and others to come up with solutions.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, expressed his grief and frustration over the attack, which came after the series of bombings that terrorized Austin earlier this year and the November shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs.
“Once again, Texas has seen the face of evil,” Cruz said. “There have been too damn many of these.”
Cruz, who visited Sutherland Springs two weeks ago for the rebuilding of the First Baptist Church where 26 people were killed, said that while there was grief and mourning, there was also hope and joy.
“I’ll tell the people of Santa Fe, you are right now being lifted up at this instant in prayer by millions of people across the country and across the world,” Cruz said.
‘A horrible thing to experience’
Averi Presley, a 17-year-old junior at the school, said she was in her floral design class when she heard the fire alarm go off. She and her fellow students were rushed downstairs and weren’t sure what was happening, she said.
Teachers corralled them behind a car shop across the street, and Presley said she leaned over to her boyfriend and asked, “What if this is like what happened in Florida?”
Presley said she saw people crying and heard a girl was shot.
“I didn’t believe it until I saw all of the police and fire trucks and life flights,” she said. “It was a horrible thing to experience, and we still don’t know who’s dead.”
Presley said she knew the suspect in the eighth grade, but they hadn’t talked since then.
“He was nice, and I didn’t know if he was bullied or not,” she said. “He had pins on his coat with the Nazis and Soviet Union. I didn’t think anything of it.”
Area business owner Leia Olinde showed up to a local middle school where families were told to go for updates on their missing loved ones. Her aunt, Cynthia Tisdale, a Santa Fe High substitute teacher, had not picked up her phone all day, Olinde said.
Olinde said about 100 people were at the middle school looking for information — a smaller number than earlier in the day. Many were parents of missing students.
“Very chaotic, but calm at the same time,” she said. “It’s a very odd feeling. I don’t like it.”
A short while later Olinde emerged from the school in tears, nodding affirmatively that her aunt had died. She then got on the phone and yelled, “Gone!”
A few minutes later, a screaming woman exited the school and got into a black Lexus parked across the street at an H-E-B. A man who accompanied her got into the driver’s side and sped off, nearly colliding with an oncoming car.
Others who had been holding out hope that their family members were OK also began trickling out, their faces revealing bad news.
Kelsey Bradshaw contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.