CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Authorities and parents searched for answers Friday after a student at a suburban Colorado high school opened fire on teachers and students, wounding two before killing himself — the latest incident to fray the nation's nerves already drawn taut by repeated episodes of gun violence.
The gunfire occurred about 10 miles from the site of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School that killed 13, and almost a year to the day after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 26.
There have been 28 school shootings this year, according to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
On Friday, it was Arapahoe High School that was terrorized during a 14-minute rampage after the gunman, whom investigators have refused to identify, arrived carrying a shotgun at about 12:30 p.m. local time, according to Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson.
The student made no effort to conceal his gun as he roamed the halls, calling the name of a teacher he was seeking, Robinson said.
Students who saw him alerted the teacher, who slipped out of the school. Instead of following, the gunman shot two students, then himself, Robinson said.
Freshman Blaise Potvien was in his fifth-period class, U.S. history, when he heard gunshots in the hallway.
Seconds later, he saw school staff running down the hall, telling people to close classroom doors.
Potvien's classmates closed the door, turned off the lights and hid together in a corner. Some cried, he said. Others screamed.
Potvien, 14, texted his parents: "I love you mom and dad. Thank you for a wonderful life."
On the other side of the school, John Spiegel Jr., a senior, was in his psychology class when he heard the shots. Then Spiegel, 18, heard what sounded like a student screaming, "We need help!"
Classmates ran to the front of the room, turned off the lights and huddled together on the floor, he said. Some prayed.
Above all, many students said, they remained calm. They had trained for this. Ever since Columbine, Colorado teachers have drilled students about how to respond if their schools are attacked or locked down. Last year's mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora was another reminder.
Freshman Whitney Riley, 15, was walking to the school's study center with friends when she heard a bang and took shelter in a cramped utility room with half a dozen students and two teachers. They remembered the lockdown drills and kept the door closed, in case the shooter might approach. Finally, one of the teachers decided they should leave, saying, "Let's go while we can."
They escaped unharmed.
After the shooting, Blaise and others remained hidden, sheltering in place as they had been trained to do until police arrived and told them it was safe to leave.
SWAT teams and a bomb squad swarmed the school, leading students to an outdoor track where they were lined up, hands on their heads, and patted down. Investigators found a device at the scene and were investigating whether it was a Molotov cocktail.
Robinson said the shooter was believed to have acted alone.
One of the wounded students, a 15-year-old girl, was taken to Littleton Adventist Hospital for surgery and was in critical condition late Friday. A second student was treated at a hospital for a minor gunshot wound and released.
At an afternoon news conference, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper lamented the "all-too familiar sequence of gunshots" at a Colorado school, but praised law enforcement and first responders for their quick action. "This is an unspeakable horror and something no child, no family, should have to endure," he said.
The rest of the students were evacuated to a church, where parents waited outside, craning their necks and hoping to see familiar faces as buses arrived. When they did, there were screams of relief, tears and hugs.
Spiegel's father, John Spiegel Sr., rushed to the church after he heard a news bulletin. "My stomach dropped," he said.
After he found his son, the feeling lingered. He just wanted to hold his son, to keep him safe.
Teresa Potvien had been out Christmas shopping when she received the ominous text from Blaise, her 14-year-old, her only son.
She jumped in her car and sped toward the school, but traffic stopped her. Police cars and fire trucks clogged the road. Helicopters hovered overhead.
She finally found him at the church and clutched him as her eyes filled with tears.
Investigators were already searching the young gunman's home, planning to interview his friends and try to figure out his motive, Robinson said.
Teresa Potvien was searching for more — an answer to why these shootings keep happening. When Columbine happened, she was pregnant with her son.
"Something is wrong with this world," she said.