Nevada school shooting: slain math teacher hailed as 'true hero'

The teacher killed during the Nevada school shooting Monday reportedly stepped in front of a boy that the shooter was aiming at and was trying to calm the situation.

Andy Barro/Reno Gazette Journal/AP
A unidentified woman holds her son after picking him up at Sparks High School, where some students were taken after a shooting that left two dead at Sparks Middle School on Monday.

On Monday morning at a Nevada middle school the usual sound of a school bell was supposed to usher students back to class after a weeklong fall break. But the bell was preceded by the noise of gunshots

At 7:15 a.m., a student opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun at Sparks Middle School, injuring two 12-year-old classmates, and killing one teacher, according to media reports. The 8th-grade math teacher and former Marine, Michael Landsberry, was trying to talk down the shooter as 20 to 30 students looked on, before he was fatally shot. 

Authorities have not yet provided a motive for the lone shooter, or where the shooter got the gun, the Associated Press reported.

"It's too early to say whether he was targeting specific people or just going on an indiscriminate shooting spree," Reno Deputy Police Chief Tom Robinson told CNN.

Jose Cazares, a student at Sparks Middle School, said he saw the armed student shoot two classmates before the shooter turned, and aimed the gun at Jose’s chest. Mr. Landsberry then stepped between Jose and the shooter, Jose told NBC’s "Today" show on Tuesday, according to a report from the Associated Press.

"He was telling him to stop and put the gun down. Then the kid, he yelled out 'No!' Like, he was yelling at him, and he shot him," Jose said. "He was calm, he was holding out his hand like, 'Put the gun in my hand.' " And then the shooter pulled the trigger.

Jose and his friends ran to hide from the gunman. The shooter heard one of Jose’s friends crying and threatened to shoot them, if they told anyone. The shooter then fired several bullets out the window, before apparently running out of bullets, Jose said. The boys lied to the shooter, telling him they didn't see anything, and then the shooter ran off.

Deputy Chief Robinson said 150 to 200 personnel secured the school and the surrounding area after the shooting was reported.

Law enforcement officials searched the area with bomb dogs, Robinson said. Agents from the FBI and US Department of Homeland Security were assisting in the investigation.

“I just want to reiterate again that the city itself is very safe and this I just an isolated incident. But it’s very, very tragic,” said Sparks Mayor Geno Martini during a late-morning news conference on Monday.

The two injured students, both 12-year-old boys, were taken to the nearby Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nev. One was shot in the shoulder, the other in the abdomen, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.

As the city recovers from the shock of the shooting, Landsberry has been praised for his role in Monday’s events.

“In my estimation, he is a hero.... We do know he was trying to intervene,” Robinson told the Gazette Journal on Monday.

Jose's mother expressed gratitude for Landsberry, who she said had never taught her son.

"He sacrificed his life to take our kids into safety," Marisela Cazares told "Today." ''I thank him for that. He's a true hero."

Landsberry taught math at Sparks Middle School, and also served in the Nevada National Guard. The teacher received his bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 2001, and reportedly loved teaching children.

The Gazette Journal reported that Landsberry liked Batman so much that some of his students used it as his nickname.

“The kids loved him,” said Chanda Landsberry, Michael Landsberry’s sister-in-law.

On Landsberry’s class website, there was a picture of a bear, and the one class rule: “Thou Shall Not Annoy Mr. L….. A very good skill to learn is reading people and their moods. We will learn a lot from each other this year and what bothers us the most. I do not like sending people to E4 [a type of detention], I prefer to handle the situation myself. One of my goals is to earn your respect while you earn mine. I believe that with mutual respect that the classroom environment will run smoothly.” 

On the site, there were also two pictures of Landsberry: one at a mountain overlook, the other in front of a military vehicle, a gun across his body.

Prior to teaching, Landsberry served two tours in Afghanistan with the Marines, according to the Gazette Journal.

“He proudly served his country and was proudly defending the students at his school,” said Mayor Martini.

“To hear he was trying to protect those kids, that he stepped up and tried to stop the situation, doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Ms. Landsberry. “He was trained to help.”

Michael Landsberry is survived by his wife, Sharon Landsberry, and two stepdaughters, Ms. Landsberry’s children from a previous relationship.

A candlelight vigil to honor the victims will take place in front of Sparks Middle School at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The Patriot Guard and various veteran groups will participate in an honor guard, the Gazette Journal reported.

Classes and after-school activities were canceled at Sparks Middle School for the rest of the week. Counselors will be on-hand to work with staff members and the school’s 700 7th-  and 8th-grade students, Reuters reported.

"It's not supposed to happen here," said Chanda Landsberry. "We're just Sparks — little Sparks, Nev. It's unreal."

The violence in Sparks erupted nearly a year after a gunman opened fire on students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 students and six adults. The Dec. 14 shooting sparked a nationwide gun-control debate.

In 2006, a 14-year-old boy opened fire in Pine Middle School in Reno. No one was killed, although two students were injured, according to the Gazette-Journal. The shooter had researched the 1999 Columbine High School shooting rampage a week before he opened fire on his classmates, the paper reported.

The Pine Middle School shooter was tried as a juvenile and was sentenced to house arrest.

Sparks is located in the western part of the state near the California border, just east of Reno.

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