A 13-year-old student armed with a crossbow and machete killed a substitute teacher and wounded four other people Monday at his high school in Barcelona, Spain, before being taken into custody, police said.
It was the first documented case in Spain of a pupil killing a teacher, according to the country’s teachers union. The attack took place on the 16th anniversary of the massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School, during which two students gunned down 12 of their classmates and a teacher before committing suicide.
Police in Barcelona said they had no motive for Monday’s killing. They did not release the names of the assailant, whose identity is protected by law, or victims, while awaiting notification of families.
The boy arrived at Barcelona’s Joan Fuster secondary school about 9 a.m., an hour after classes had begun. He walked into a classroom and opened fire on his teacher, who greeted him at the door, and on fellow students, one of whom was the teacher’s daughter, police said. A substitute teacher heard screams and ran to help. He was mortally wounded in the chest.
He had been working at the school for only a week. Police would not confirm whether it was a crossbow shot or machete strike that killed him.
The assailant walked into another classroom and tried to attack students there, before he was subdued by staff. Students barricaded themselves into neighboring classrooms, piling up furniture against the door.
“We huddled together in the corner of our classroom,” one unidentified student told Spain’s El País newspaper. When a fellow student asked the attacker to stop, “he came and stabbed him as well,” the student recounted. Then the group decided to flee. “We counted, ‘one, two, three’ -- and then ran out into the yard.”
Those injured were expected to survive. They included at least one other teacher.
Frantic parents gathered outside the school in Barcelona’s La Sagrera neighborhood for several hours before they were reunited with their children. Classes were canceled for the day. After nightfall, passersby placed flowers and lit candles outside the school’s glass doors.
Monday’s attack was hauntingly similar to the plot of a 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver, “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” in which a fictional high school boy carries out a crossbow attack on fellow students in his high school gym. The book was made into a 2011 film starring Tilda Swinton.
The assailant in Monday’s attack was held by police. Under Spanish law, criminal charges cannot be filed against a suspect under the age of 14. Unless an exception is made, he will avoid trial, but will be evaluated by a judge and mental health professionals and sent to either a juvenile detention facility or a mental hospital.
The boy’s classmates told local Catalan media that he was not known as a troublemaker. But one classmate told La Vanguardia newspaper that the attacker was obsessed with the military, collected weapons at home and even drafted “kill lists” of teachers at his school.
A search of the boy’s home turned up materials that could be used to make Molotov cocktails, police said.
In Spain, a crossbow is classified in the lowest, safest category of firearms, but a license is still required to buy one. However, some websites on which they are sold do not require customers to submit a scanned copy of that license, only an identification card, Spanish media reported.
In 2012, a man was arrested for allegedly planning to plant bombs around a university campus on the Spanish island of Mallorca, in an attack timed with the Columbine anniversary. Police said at the time that the suspect was obsessed with the Columbine shootings, and had written about them in his diary and a blog.
Frayer is a special correspondent.