The second-floor hallway of Freeman High School near Spokane, Washington, was at once a scene of chilling violence and pure bravery Wednesday morning.
There, at around 10 a.m., one student brandished the guns he had stashed in a duffel bag, determined to begin his rampage.
Another student, identified by local media as Sam Strahan, tried to stop him. “That type of courage,” Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said, cost Strahan his life.
“That’s how he’ll be remembered. He gave everything to protect those who are in harm’s way,” Knezovich told The Washington Post.
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The high school of more than 300 students, southeast of Spokane, became a crime scene as the shooter opened fire, killing Strahan and wounding three other students. Then, officials said, a school custodian approached the shooter and “ordered him to surrender.” The custodian was able to subdue the shooter until an officer arrived and took him into custody.
While police have not disclosed Strahan’s name, pending its release by the county medical examiner’s office, friends and witnesses have identified him in local news stories and participated in a vigil at a local mall. As shock turned to grief in the hours after the country’s latest school shooting, they told of a sincere young man with a penchant for joking around, even after burying his own father, who died in an accident - on Father’s Day.
“He was a quiet kid, not loud or boisterous,” a friend of the Strahan family, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, told The Post. “You’d talk to him and he just seemed like a good, normal kid.”
The family friend said she was closest with Sam Strahan’s father, Scott Strahan, who died after being crushed under a motor home he was working on. She remembered seeing Sam Strahan at his father’s memorial service - Sam Strahan didn’t want to attract much attention, preferring to “just hang back and be himself,” the family friend said.
“Knowing the type of person that his father was, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that Sam tried to stop the shooter,” she said.
A friend and classmate of Sam Strahan’s told the Spokesman-Review that Strahan “was really funny, and he likes to make lots of jokes.”
“He just lost his father this past summer,” the friend, Liam Marshall, told the newspaper. “I thought he was a lot wiser (after his father died). He didn’t do stuff like he used to do. But he was still funny.”
Officials said the suspect’s first gun jammed before he pulled out a second one. That’s when another student - widely reported to be Strahan - tried to intervene.
The Spokesman-Review quoted Knezovich as saying that from interviews conducted Wednesday with more than 100 people, the shooter’s motive appeared to stem from “a bullying type of situation.” Knezovich did not provide specifics about the shooter’s motives in an interview with The Post.
As the suspect’s name circulated online and in local press, the Spokesman-Review reported that he had a well-known history of firing guns on his YouTube channel. The newspaper quoted Michael Harper, who described himself as a close friend of the suspect, saying the suspect had recently become obsessed with school shooting documentaries. At the start of the school year, the suspect had written notes to some of his friends saying he planned to do “something stupid,” Harper said.
Witnesses to the shooting described a gruesome site just outside a biology classroom, as reported by the Spokesman-Review.
“I was putting my backpack away and I heard a loud pop,” Elisa Vigil, a freshman, told the newspaper. “The shooter was walking around. He had his pistol. His face was completely passive. He shot someone in the head. I crouched down the hall. I looked up and a girl screamed, ‘Help me, help me, help me.’ The hall was empty. She was shot in the back. I looked to my right, and there was a boy and he was shot in the head.”
The three wounded students who were transported to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center are in stable condition, a hospital spokeswoman told The Post early Thursday morning.
In a tweet, Everytown for Gun Safety - a nonprofit organization seeking to reduce gun violence - said Wednesday’s rampage was at least the 31st school shooting nationwide in 2017.
On Wednesday night, hundreds gathered in Spokane at a vigil for Strahan and the three shooting victims. A statement from Freeman School District Superintendent Randy Russell said the entire district would be closed on Thursday.
Knezovich told The Post that on Wednesday he had been with the victim’s mother, now grieving the deaths of her husband and youngest child. He said that as officials continued to investigate what led to his county’s deadly shooting, the “why” behind “these senseless type of tragedies” may never fully come into view.
“We as a society need to do a better job teaching our children that hate and violence is not the way to solve things,” he said.