How one teacher talked down a would-be school shooter

A hostage situation at a West Virginia high school ended without injury, largely thanks to the calm and quick thinking of a teacher.

Ben Queen/AP
Parents reunite with their children following a 'hostage-type situation' at Philip Barbour High School, Tuesday, in Philippi, W.Va. A report of someone with a gun inside the school led authorities to isolate and arrest a suspect in the building Tuesday, State Police said.

When a “code red” alert first went up at her West Virginia high school, 17-year-old senior Kayla Smith said that no one in her classroom took the warning seriously.

But it soon became apparent that the alarms were not a drill.

In another classroom on the second floor of Philip Barbour High School in Philipi, W.Va., a 14-year-old boy was pointing a gun at a teacher and 29 petrified students.

When the other students found out, Ms. Smith told the Associated Press, “we all held hands and said a prayer.”

No one was hurt in the hostage situation that day, as one teacher managed to persuade the student to free his classmates and surrender. As the situation unfolded over the course of two to three hours, the teacher spoke to calm him, buying time for the police to arrive and negotiate the students’ release.

The boy was taken to a hospital for evaluation and will face charges, according to Barbour County Prosecutor Leckta Poling. She declined to specify which charges, and said that the court process would be closed because of his age.

State Police Lt. Michael Baylous said officials are investigating what could have incited the 14-year-old to come into class with a gun that afternoon, which seemed like an ordinary Tuesday in their small Appalachian town of Philippi. It was the ninth day of the new school year. 

But as the remainder of the 724-student body was evacuated to the football stadium to be sent home, praise streamed in for the teacher and the police chief for helping get everyone out safely.

Classes were just about to change, Barbour County Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Woofter told the AP, and a new group of students about to enter the classroom when the teacher managed to convince the boy not to let them in. 

Those students told another teacher, who got school administrators to call 911. 

“The teacher did a miraculous job, calming the student, maintaining order in the class,” Mr. Woofter said.

He also credited Philippi Police Chief Jeff Walters for getting quickly to the scene. He “did an awesome job negotiating with this very troubled young man," Woofter said.

Woofter, a former sheriff, said parents were right in following police warnings to stay away from the school. “In such a trying time, I was just amazed at our parents and how everybody responded to the situation," he said. "I just thank God everybody is safe and hopefully we'll never have a repeat of that again.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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