As they grieve, Santa Fe students puzzle over school shooter’s motive


Highlights

Gunman’s attack is another blow for students who had weathered Hurricane Harvey in August.

With two teammates injured by gunfire, Santa Fe baseball squad voted to play in tournament Saturday night.

Almost everyone at Santa Fe High School knew Dimitrios Pagourtzis, or knew of him. But grief-stricken students said Saturday they could not fathom what could have prompted the attack on campus a day earlier that left 10 dead – eight of them reportedly students – and 13 injured.

As Mayor-elect Jason Tabor stood outside the school on Saturday afternoon and declared, “We are hurt, but not broken,” students waited turns to enter the school for the first time since the attack and collect car keys and other valuables left behind in Friday’s chaos.

There was talk that some might never go back.

“Half of the kids say they want to be home-schooled,” sophomore Autumn Harrison said.

Much of the building was closed off as investigators continued to piece together the nation’s third school shooting in the past seven days and the 22nd school shooting of 2018.

Authorities said Pagourtzis wore a long coat to hide a shotgun and a pistol owned by his father, and that he opened fire on a first-period art class, targeting people he reportedly told authorities he did not like. The 17-year-old football player has admitted to the shooting and is being held in the Galveston County Jail without bond on charges of capital murder and aggravated assault of a public servant.

Pagourtzis’ family released a statement: “We are as shocked and confused as anyone else by these events that occurred. We are gratified by the public comments made by other Santa Fe High School students that show Dimitri as we know him: a smart, quiet, sweet boy. While we remain mostly in the dark about the specifics of yesterday’s tragedy, what we have learned from media reports seems incompatible with the boy we love. We share the public’s hunger for answers as to why this happened, and will await the outcome of the investigation before speaking about these events.”

The shooting came about a month after students at the school staged a walkout to protest gun violence, and three months after a lockdown was ordered over a gun threat that turned out to be nothing.

Students who had missed three weeks of school in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey will be off Monday and Tuesday. The plan remains for seniors to graduate in two weeks, on June 1.

“This school year has been so terrible for us,” senior Tyler Ray said.

At a Friday night vigil at a nearby bank, Ray said he could not believe that Pagourtzis would plot such an onslaught. A day earlier, the two had been at the Schlitterbahn water park in Galveston with a group of people from school. Ray said they had lunch together.

“He was fine,” he said. “He seemed happy. It was all good. I wish he had reached out to someone.”

Pagourtzis was quiet and nonconfrontational, Ray said. He brought a positive attitude into the Santa Fe High Indians’ locker room, was a regular at optional summer workouts, and was an excellent student, Ray said.

“Wasn’t the type of person to start something,” Ray said.

Others have called Pagourtzis odd and awkward. Alyssa Vool, a sophomore, said she’s heard he was bullied.

Pagourtzis will likely be spared the possibility of the death penalty because of a state law that shields from execution anyone under 18.

A school police officer who confronted the shooter during the attack is among 13 people who were injured. The officer is in critical, but stable condition, according to district Police Chief Walter Braun.

U.S. Rep. Randy Weber proclaimed, “We will pull together, we will grieve together, we will love together.” Weber, R-Pearland, called the community of about 13,000 residents “salt of the earth.”

Student Esta O’Mara said she didn’t think much of it when she heard a fire alarm a little after 7:30 a.m. Friday, but was concerned when a teacher who had served in the Marines screamed for students to run. The attack was happening at the other end of the building, she said.

“For him to look like that, we all knew something was wrong,” O’Mara said.

O’Mara’s friend, 15-year-0ld Kyle McLeod, was killed in the attack. The two had watched shows on Netflix together the night before. She was unaware of any ties McLeod had to the suspect.

“Probably my best friend,” she said. “We did everything together.”

Also killed was Chris Stone, who was a teammate with Pagourtzis on the school’s junior varsity football team. Stone was the center on the offensive line and at practices would lock up against Pagourtzis, a defensive tackle.

Stone, 16, was a typical teenager who played video games, followed the Dallas Cowboys and could make people laugh, his cousin Michelle Ellerd said. He recently had taken his girlfriend to the prom.

Meanwhile, the school’s baseball team found comfort inside of the white lines and decided to play a game Saturday night.

With two of their teammates recovering from injuries sustained in the attack, players gathered and voted to go forward as planned with their regional quarterfinal matchup against Kingwood. Many viewed it as a decision that could aid in the community’s recovery.

“They want to do it for the people,” Santa Fe coach Ronnie Wulf said. “They don’t want this to spoil all of that.”

Wulf said he left the room for the vote and has no idea how many players voted in favor of playing.

The Indians were forced to play without one of their best players, sophomore pitcher Rome Shubert, who was shot in the back of the head. Shubert has committed to play at University of Houston. Another player, sophomore catcher Trenton Beazley, was struck in the back by a ricocheted bullet, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Santa Fe needed to win Saturday to continue their season after dropping game one against Kingwood on Thursday in a best-of-three series.

“It will be tougher than anything else they’ve ever had to do,” he said.

Wulf, who has coached the team for 21 years, said he wasn’t sure what he’d tell his players before the game.

“Never done it before. I don’t know if there’s any way to handle it,” he said.



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