SPARKS, Nev. — A middle school crowded with parents dropping off their children and students hurrying to class erupted into chaos Monday morning as a student drew a semiautomatic handgun and opened fire, killing a teacher and wounding two students before fatally turning the gun on himself.
The unidentified shooter was dressed in khaki slacks that are part of Sparks Middle School's required uniform, witnesses said. He shot one 12-year-old boy in the abdomen and another 12-year-old boy in the shoulder, Sparks Police Department Deputy Chief Tom Miller said, adding that both wounded boys were listed in stable condition. But he declined to identify any of the students or provide additional details, other than confirming that the shooter had committed suicide.
Witnesses said the slain man, identified by family members as eighth-grade math teacher Michael Landsberry, tried to intervene before the boy with the gun aimed his weapon at him and fired.
"We've got video we have to review, people we've got to talk to," said Tom Robinson, deputy chief of the Reno Police Department. "But in my estimation, he is a hero. We do know he was trying to intervene."
Relatives said Landsberry, 45, was the kind of teacher who would have tried to stop the attack.
"It doesn't surprise anybody that that's what Michael would do," Chanda Landsberry said of her brother-in-law. "It doesn't feel real. It's totally surreal to have it happen."
Kyle Nucum, 13, told the Reno Gazette-Journal that he and several students were near the basketball court when they heard a loud pop. "Everybody was screaming," he said.
Kyle said he saw a student point a gun at a teacher who had ordered the student to put the weapon down. "And then the student fired a shot at the teacher. The teacher fell, and everybody ran away," he said.
Four or five more shots were heard as students fled across a field to a nearby house to get away, Kyle said.
Sparks Mayor Geno Martini said late Monday that there still was no indication of the shooter's motive, but that the boy shot the two students before being confronted by Landsberry. Martini described Landsberry as a "well-liked teacher by students and faculty" who had served in the Nevada Air National Guard and had done two tours of duty in Afghanistan.
"This happens in other places but you never expect it to happen in your city, especially in a safe family town," said Martini, who has lived in Sparks all of his life.
Dale Lundin, site facilities coordinator at the school, said Monday was "a very scary morning."
"I was in the building ... a few minutes before the entry bell rang, and then there was a lot of commotion going on out in the hallway," he said. "I stepped into the hallway, heard a couple of gun shots."
After seeing that the hall was clear, Lundin went into his office and locked the door.
"I could hear the police out in the hallway, but we're trained to not open the door or go out until it's clear," he said. "The staff and the students both did a very good job because we've gone through these 'code reds' before.
"You never really think that it's going to happen at your place of work, or in this case, your school. When it does happen, it kind of puts you in shock."
The entire shooting episode lasted only a few minutes, with the first calls coming in to authorities at 7:16 a.m., police said.
"Law enforcement officers were on the scene in less than three minutes from the first calls," Mike Mieras, chief of police with the Washoe County School District, said at a news conference.
But by then, it was over.
Classes were immediately canceled, and the school will stay closed the remainder of this week, district officials said.
"We know this is a difficult time for all of us, but one of the things that I love about this community is we're a family," said Pedro Martinez, superintendent of the Washoe County School District. "We'll have to mourn together and we'll have to heal together.
"My condolences to our fallen hero," he said of Landsberry.
Brenda Mena and Isis Lopez, seventh-graders at Sparks Middle School, attended a district-sponsored counseling session Monday night.
Brenda said they were there "to get closure" after a day full of shock.
"They say that school's supposed to be safe," Brenda said.
"I still can't believe it," Isis said.
Neither girl had Landsberry as a teacher, but they said he was a recognizable figure, in part, they said, because of his bald head.
Brenda said Landsberry would be chatty in the halls, and students called him "Batman."
"He was not just a teacher," Isis said. "He's more like a friend, encouraging us to do our best."
The morning, Brenda said, was "intense — to walk into school and see all these people running." Now, she said, there were "crazy rumors" on Facebook, with people having heated disagreements on the latest developments.
"There's a lot of confusion," Brenda said. Isis agreed, adding she felt "overwhelmed" by the day.
Authorities were hesitant to release much information, emphasizing that the homicide investigation was just beginning. Another news conference is scheduled for Tuesday morning.
"We have 20 to 30 student witnesses," Sparks police Sgt. Greta Woyciehowsky said, adding that the middle school caters to seventh- and eighth-grade students who are generally 12 to 14 years old.
When the shooting occurred, the school area was bustling with traffic as parents dropped off their children and students got off buses, she said, and everyone crowds through the school's lone entrance and exit. Students were evacuated to nearby Sparks High School.
Elizabeth Alvarez, 33, lives in an apartment not far from the middle school and said that about 7:15 a.m. she "heard a lot of sirens and the streets were full of police."
She later went to the high school to pick up her 13-year-old nephew, Juan Basurto, an eighth-grader who had been walking to the middle school at the time of the shooting. Alvarez said the children were not crying but were scared, including her nephew.
"He was frightened," Alvarez said, speaking in Spanish. "He said a boy had shot a teacher and two other kids."
She said she saw parents running down the street in front of the middle school, because police had blocked off vehicle access. Hours later, the streets were quiet, but there was still a police presence.
State leaders offered their condolences.
In a Twitter message, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said he was "deeply saddened" to hear of the shootings. And Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in a statement, said: "No words of condolence could possibly ease the pain, but I hope it is some small comfort that Nevada mourns with them."
On Monday night, Michael Landsberry's teaching Web page still featured advice he had posted for his students:
"You are asking yourself what annoys me, it depends on any given day. Just like you I have good days and bad days. What may bother me one day may not the next. A very good skill to learn is reading people and their moods.... One of my goals is to earn your respect while you earn mine.
"I believe that with mutual respect that the classroom environment will run smoothly."
Mason reported from Sparks, Nev., and Bloomekatz from Los Angeles.
Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report.
Joseph Serna contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times