Ns News Online Desk: A 17-year-old student made a court appearance on Friday evening, hours after police said he took a shotgun and a revolver into his Texas high school under a trench-coat and opened fire on an art class, killing 10 people and injuring at least 10 before surrendering.The massacre in Santa Fe, a partly rural town of 13,000 about 35 miles south-east of Houston, was the deadliest US school shooting since 17 students and educators died in a barrage of bullets at a high school in Parkland, Florida, three months ago.
A hospital treating many of the wounded said on Saturday morning one patient was in good condition and two were critical.
Only two weeks before the end of the school year, pupils who had been anticipating graduation and a long summer break were left to prepare for funerals. Names of the victims began to emerge. They included Sabika Sheikh, an exchange student from Pakistan, and Cynthia Tisdale, a substitute teacher and mother of four.
On Saturday, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, paid tribute to Sheikh, who was on a programme sponsored by the state department, “helping to build ties between the United States and her native Pakistan”. “Sabika’s death and that of the other victims is heartbreaking and will be mourned deeply,” he said.
The American football star JJ Watt, of the Houston Texans NFL team, reportedly offered to pay for the funerals. Hundreds of people attended a prayer vigil on Friday, a couple of miles from the school.
Handcuffed and with his head bowed in a two-minute appearance before a judge in nearby Galveston, Dimitrios Pagourtzis was denied bail. He was charged with capital murder and aggravated assault of a public servant. Mumbling “yes sir” and “no sir”, he requested a court-appointed attorney. He was not required to enter a plea.
In Texas, capital murder can lead to the death penalty for adults. As a 17-year-old, Pagourtzis faces life imprisonment. The US supreme court ruled in 2005 that it is unconstitutional to execute people for crimes committed under the age of 18.Ashton Wardrup, 16, said students were initially confused when the fire alarm went off during first period on Friday, wondering if it was a drill or a real fire. Then they heard gunshots and teachers urgently told them to evacuate.
“We heard a loud pop,” Wardrup said, “I thought it was an explosion, and everybody just took off. We got around the corner and then they told us to stand right there so they could get a head count, then they sent us to the Shell station [next to the campus] and that’s when the panicking started, parents started coming in, saw cops – every five seconds there was a group of cops coming in.”
The school, which has about 1,400 students, had entered lockdown in February when reports of popping noises raised fears of gunfire. On Friday, there was confusion over whether to evacuate or shelter in place.
“February I had a plan if somebody was coming because we were in a classroom; we knew there could have been an active shooter so we could make a plan of if they do come into the room, what to do. Today, there was no plan at all,” Wardrup said.
“Today my only thought was run. I thought about turning around and going to help. At times I do feel bad for that, for not turning round and going to help but I don’t know how much I could have done.”
Greg Abbott, the Texas governor, told reporters Pagourtzis had no criminal history and there had been no clear red flags. He said the suspect planned to kill himself but “didn’t have the courage” and that the weapons appeared to be legally owned by the gunman’s father.
Authorities searched an address linked to the suspect and said they found explosive devices on the campus and in at least one other location.
Pagourtzis posted a photograph of a T-shirt with the slogan “Born to Kill” on his Facebook page last month and had a trench coat decorated with pins of military symbols, including one associated with Nazis. According to an affidavit, he admitted to police he carried out the murders and said “he did not shoot students he did like so he could have his story told”.Pagourtzis played on the defensive line for the junior varsity football team, where Wardrup was one of his team-mates. “I would never have expected it to be him,” he said. “When I heard that the name was Dimitrios I was trying to find a different one because he was one of our football players. He was always after school working hard, he was always there, you’d always see him.”Wardrup said Pagourtzis was quiet with an even temperament, fitted in with the rest of the team and did not stand out, despite his habit of wearing the trenchcoat whatever the weather.
“He’s been wearing it for years. Never suspected anything of it; it was just something he wore, just his style of fashion,” he said.
Another football player, Kaleb Wisko, said: “He never came across as disturbed or anything like that. He always seemed normal, friendly for the most part. He never showed any signs of being like this at all … he just practiced with us just like any other team-mate would have.”
The 17-year-old said the coat was a topic of conversation among the students. “We talked about it, that it’s kind of different. We figured that it meant something to him and he never came off as weird or anything like that,” he said. “This year it seemed like almost every day he wore the coat to school. So it was a normal thing.
“So to see him in this coat, you wouldn’t think twice that maybe there was a weapon underneath.”