Jaylen Ray Fryberg, 15, shot friends in the cafeteria of Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Washington, before turning the gun on himself
Gun violence returned to America’s schools on Friday when a 14-year-old gunman opened fire in a crowded school cafeteria in Washington State, killing one teenager and critically injuring three others.
Witnesses said the gunman, named locally as Jaylen Ray Fryberg, 15, stood on a table in the cafeteria of Marysville-Pilchuck High School outside Seattle, and opened fire at close range at around 10.40am local time.
Fryberg then turned the gun on himself and died at the scene.
Classmates and family members told that Fryberg, a proud Native American from the local Tulalip Tribtes who was pictured on his Facebook page wearing a traditional headdress, had been angered by a dispute over his girlfriend.
“He was heartbroken and didn’t know what to do. Jaylen wasn’t a bad kid, he just made a mistake,” his cousin, 16-year-old Heaven Arbuckle said, adding the shooting was over a girl.
She said Fryberg shot their other cousins Nate and Andrew – their condition was unknown
Other students said Fryberg had given no inkling of what was to come when he trained as normal on Thursday with the school’s American Football squad.
“He was fine – at football practice yesterday,” said Jordan Luton, a freshman student in the same year, adding of the shooting: “He went after his friends, who were sitting at a certain table.”
The incident occurred as students packed into the cafeteria for their morning break at Marysville-Pilchuck, a school of some 2,500 students located nearly 40 miles north of Seattle.
The White House confirmed that President Barack Obama was briefed.
Officials at Providence Regional Hospital said that the four victims, two young females and two young males, had arrived via road ambulance with gunshot wounds.
“They’ve all been in to surgery. They’re all in a critical situation,” said Joanna Roberts, chief medical officer at Providence Medical Centre.
The shooting is the latest in a long line of gun crimes in America’s schools, with 23 fatal shootings since August 2013, according to a list compiled by Everytown.org, a gun safety group that monitors school shootings.
Since the Sandy Hook massacre of December 2012 when 20 children and six staff members were killed in Newtown, Connecticut there have been 87 school shooting incidents in America. Despite a political outcry gun lobby groups succeeded in thwarting all efforts to tighten US gun laws.
According to accounts on Twitter and Facebook, Fryberg also wrestled and was a keen hunter, proudly posting several pictures of him posing with deer that he had shot in order to bring meat home to his elders, an important part of tribal culture.
He was picture on his site holding a hunting rifle given him for his birthday, but it is understood this was not the weapon used in the attacks.
Other students described Fryberg as a popular boy, being voted freshman homecoming prince earlier this month. Tulalip Tribes. His final tweet, on October 23, was: “it won’t last … it’ll never last.”
In mid-September he indicated that a friend had done something to make him upset. “Did you forget she was my girlfriend?” he said. “Dude. She tells me everything. And now. I [expletive] HATE you! Your [sic] no longer my ‘brother!’”
Police, fire trucks and ambulances vehicles streamed to the scene as children, many with their hands above their heads, spilled out of the school onto nearby playing fields as TV helicopters overhead beamed back live pictures of tactical firearms units taking up position outside.
The incident caused panic among parents and the local community as news of the shooting spread rapidly via social media, sending parents rushing to the school, despite pleas from police to stay away.
“Our son just called to let us know that his kids are okay – his son was about 50 feet from the shooter – a student that he knows,” said Tom Hopper, the grandfather of a child caught up in the incident in an email to KIRO7.
“Our grandson and his friends ran away – jumped a fence and went to a home in the area. He didn’t know about any victims but thought there was at least one,” he added.
Another student speaking to a local TV station while still on lockdown in his classroom said his teacher had told the children to get out their mobile phones in order to reassure their parents that they were still alive.
“The teacher told us to tell our parents what happened and that we’re OK,” said Robert Zak, a student.