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Police: Student fires gun in Bountiful school before his parents disarm him

BOUNTIFUL — The 15-year-old Mueller Park Junior High School student casually walked into a science class shortly after school began Thursday and without saying a word, fired a blast from a shotgun.

"I heard it cock, and then I heard the shot go off and I looked up and there was a big hole in the ceiling," said fellow student Dan Fowers.

"He looked angry when he came in, like just kind of an angry face, and he just shot at the ceiling without an explanation. He didn’t really say anything," added student Calvin Smith, who was also in the classroom.

The student was carrying a 12-gauge shotgun, a .9 mm handgun and two boxes of ammunition — one for each weapon.

But moments after firing the round, he was disarmed by his own father and mother who had gone to the school that morning looking for their son because they were concerned about his behavior that day.

"They were (also) concerned that there were weapons missing from the house," said Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross.

Police say the entire incident lasted only three minutes. And despite the fact that the boy was heavily armed, no one suffered any injuries.

"Everything that my training tells me, (we) should not have had the outcome that we had at Mueller Park," Ross said.

He admits that as police officers from agencies across Davis County rushed toward the school, they were expecting much worse.

"What we were envisioning was very different than what ultimately ended up playing out — and I am so grateful," Ross said.

The chief also had praise for the parents of the boy, who "saw him doing things differently in the morning," and knew something wasn't right.

"Had they not been engaged in their son's life and observed some peculiar behaviors and taken action, I'm confident the outcome would have been different," Ross said.

Thursday's frightening incident began about 8:15 a.m. when the 15-year-old walked into the school at 955 E. 1800 South. Police have not said what they believe his intentions were or if the boy was targeting a specific student, or had possibly gone to the school to commit suicide. Ross also did not specify Thursday what kind of troubling signs his parents had seen or if the boy had been bullied or shown signs of being suicidal in the past.

Investigators say the guns the boy took are normally locked in his parents' safe. He used a long coat to conceal the shotgun as he walked from his house into the school, he said.

There were 26 students and a teacher in the classroom the boy walked into.

"He kind of just stood there after he shot (the gun)," Fowers said.

A student and the teacher immediately attempted to talk to the boy, causing him to pause.

"I believe those seconds played a big role in the outcome," Ross said, adding that at some point, "the suspect did put the gun toward his neck and his intentions may have been to commit suicide."

The pause allowed time for the boys' parents — who were two classrooms away at the time looking for him — to run into the science class after hearing the shot and pull him into the hallway.

"Both participated in apprehending him," Ross said, while a teacher called 911.

"We have a kid with a gun. His parents have him," a teacher said in a recording of a 911 call released late Thursday — one of multiple emergency calls and texts that police say they received.

"Are the parents being aggressive as well?" a dispatcher asks.

"They've got him against the wall. No the parents are not. They're worried about him. They're like handcuffing him," the teacher replied.

Investigators said they did not yet know whether the parents called police or the school about their concerns before arriving at the building.

The parents disarmed their son and a Bountiful police officer arrived shortly after and took him and the weapons into custody.

Meanwhile, the school went into lockdown. All of the students were instructed to hide under their desks.

"We all hit the deck because we all just didn’t want to get hurt. So we all went down," Smith said.

As soon as the boy was pulled out of the room, the class locked the door and executed the lockdown drill it had previously practiced.

"We went into the corner that's opposite the door so they couldn’t see us. We just sat there for 20 minutes, just waiting for the lockdown to be over," Smith said.

"It was quiet. No one spoke a word. There were a few people crying. It was scary.”

Fowers believed the lockdown was likely 40 minutes long before police unlocked the door. He said most of the students sat in silence and in shock.

"I don't know what I was thinking. I was just thinking, 'Why would he do that?'" he recalled.

A Bountiful police officer who was already near the school arrived within two minutes, according to Ross. Because it was dispatched as an "active shooter" situation, more than 100 officers from law enforcement agencies between North Salt Lake and Layton responded to the school.

"The cops just kept coming and coming and coming," said one student, Jaron.

Ross said he was grateful for both the law enforcement response and for the boy's parents for quickly bringing the situation to a resolution before anyone was hurt.

"We did what I think a community would expect," the chief said. "We have prepared for this over the years, ever since Columbine."

The boy was booked into the Farmington Bay Detention Center for investigation of two counts of theft of a firearm and two counts of bringing a weapon to school.

"The sun shined on Bountiful today because of the outcome," Mayor Randy Lewis said.

The incident proved that no community is immune to school violence, even quiet Bountiful, he said, offering praise for teachers and police alike for taking action.

"That's the type of community that we live in. It isn't a case of it's someone else's job, it's all of our jobs to keep schools safe," Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams added.

Ross said the school had conducted several drills over the years to prepare for such an incident, though he noted it is unfortunate that there is a need to have such drills.

After the student was taken into custody, it still took officers a couple of hours to methodically clear each room, per protocol. Bountiful Police Lt. Dave Edwards said students and teachers were instructed to stay inside their locked classrooms until an officer came to them, unlocked the door and confirmed they were all safe.

There was also a concern for a time over the boy's discarded backpack found in the hallway. Although it was determined not to have anything dangerous in it, police had to take the time to make sure it didn't contain any explosives.

"This is done for the safety of their students," the chief said.

Dozens of anxious parents gathered outside in the snow and at an LDS meetinghouse across the street waiting to take their children home. Many parents and neighbors embraced as they arrived, some shedding tears and others making small jokes. Some were able to text their children inside the building. At least one parent said his son was nervous, but he felt a sense of reassurance because of the police response.

The school lockdown was lifted just after 11 a.m. Classes resumed as normal even though a number of students were checked out of school for the day by their parents. Williams estimated that 20 crisis counselors were sent to the school to visit each classroom and assist with any concerns the students might have.

Williams said Thursday he wasn't sure what action the district would take against the student, but he noted the student "faces a lot of trouble."

Contributing: Shara Park, Jed Boal