Two students from Graham-Kapowsin High School near Tacoma were shot just off campus Tuesday afternoon, according to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
Both 16-year-olds were taken to Tacoma General Hospital for treatment of their wounds.
The teens were alert and talking while being transported, Graham Fire & Rescue spokesman Steve Richards said. One was in critical condition and one was in serious condition at the time.
“Both are going into surgery,” Richards said. “I do expect them to recover.”
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The shooting happened about 2:30 p.m. near the school at 22100 108th Ave. E., Graham, shortly after a fight broke out. The two victims, both males, ran back to the campus after being shot, sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.
One of the victims was found in the parking lot by the football field, Troyer said, and one was found in the school’s locker room. The school was immediately put into lockdown.
Deputies were seeking a green sedan, possibly a Chevrolet Impala, with multiple black males inside that likely fled the school after the shooting, Troyer said.
The incident might be gang-related, and the shooters are not believed to be from the Graham area.
“Everything is starting to point that way,” Troyer said.
Deputies are working through theories on what led up to the shooting, both from their investigation and from social media, he added.
“We’re going to get this figured out,” Troyer said. “We’ve got to sift through the rumors and nicknames and street names that are involved.”
Bree Denser, a 15-year-old sophomore at Graham-Kapowsin High, was in choir when the school was put on lockdown.
“All I head was an announcement saying we were going into lockdown, and then sirens,” she said.
She sent a text message to her father, Carl, about the lockdown and said she was OK.
Sheriff’s deputies came into the dark choir room with flashlights and told the students to put their hands up and asked whether anyone was there who shouldn’t be, Bree said.
About 60 students were in the room, and they were escorted in groups of 10 to the gymnasium.
Carl Denser parked near Frontier Middle School and walked over about 5:30 p.m., but he wasn’t able to sign Bree out and take her home until about 6:30 p.m.
Fellow sophomore Terrin Thompson, 15, had run seven miles away from the school in a group of seven JROTC students and their teacher when a bystander told them about the shooting.
“My first thought was, ‘I’ve got to get there now,’” Terrin said. “I was ready to run straight to the school.”
The group ran back toward the school, but the teacher kept them from going inside and had them go to a nearby home to wait and call their families.
Rumors were circulating on social media that Graham-Kapowsin football players might have been involved in the shooting, but head coach Eric Kurle said neither wounded person was on his team.
John Gutierrez, 41, of Frederickson, was on his way to the high school Tuesday to get his son, who had finished with his after-school drama program.
He noticed he was following deputies on the way, and he was told to leave the parking lot when he arrived.
That’s when he got a text from his son that said: “Hey, dad, I can’t leave. We’re going into lockdown.”
“It is scary, but I know my son is OK,” Gutierrez said. “I’m just praying for the parents of the other kids.”
He tried calling his son, unsuccessfully. About 10 minutes after the first text, the 17-year-old senior texted that he couldn’t talk, because students weren’t supposed to use their phones.
His 16-year-old daughter was already home from school. She took the bus.
Darren Iversen, 24, learned of the lockdown when he arrived at the school to pick up his brother, who is a freshman there. It took 20 minutes or so before Iverson’s mother told him his brother had texted that he was safe.
Four schools were on lockdown as deputies investigated the shooting: Graham-Kapowsin High, Frontier, Nelson Elementary School and Graham Elementary School, according to Bethel School District spokesman Douglas Boyles.
Graham Elementary students were released to their buses about 3:10 p.m. Students were beginning to be released from the other schools about 4:30 p.m., according to the school district.
Jamie Tice, 22, of Graham was reunited with her 7-year-old daughter after the lockdown at Nelson Elementary was lifted.
She said she arrived to pick up her daughter about 3:50 p.m. and found the school was on lockdown. About 30 minutes later, she learned that the shooting had happened near the high school.
When asked what it felt like to be reunited, she said, “Amazing. I was so relieved.”
After-school activities at Graham-Kapowsin High and Frontier Middle School were canceled.
Puyallup High School student Nobi Johnson, 17, was headed to the school to referee a 3:30 p.m. basketball game at Graham-Kapowsin High.
The game was canceled, but she waited outside the school because one of her friends was inside. The friend texted her that he was OK.
“I’m kind of more concerned for my friend right now,” she said. “He was actually about to go into the locker room when they found the guy.” He was going to go in to use the bathroom.
Troyer, the sheriff’s spokesman, commended students and parents for how well they conducted themselves during the lockdown.
“The lockdown went good because they practice it. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life,” he said. “It was as good as something like this could go, considering the circumstance.”
School was already scheduled to start two hours late Wednesday at Graham-Kapowsin High School for teacher training, said Boyles, the district spokesman. Counselors will be made available to students who want help processing the incident.
“To have this kind of gun violence happen so close to our schools and to involve two of our kids is heartbreaking,” Boyles said.
Staff writer TJ Cotterill contributed to this report.