Police Confronted Texas School Gunman Within 4 Minutes, Sheriff Says
Jack Healy and Manny Fernandez
Reporters for The New York Times
Dr. David Marshall, left, and Dr. Gulshan Sharma spoke at a hospital in Galveston, Tex., about the injuries suffered by Officer John Barnes during the school shooting in Santa Fe, Tex., on Friday. Dr. Sharma gestured to the area where Officer Barnes was hit by a shotgun blast
In many ways, Santa Fe High School followed the playbook for how to confront a school shooting.
When gunfire erupted on Friday morning, two police officers stationed at the school confronted the gunman within about four minutes, law enforcement officials reported Monday, offering new details on how the police brought the shooting spree to an end. The Galveston County Sheriff, Henry Trochesset, said the officers hemmed the gunman into one classroom and saved lives by drawing his attention and fire.
Even before then, the students and teachers at Santa Fe High had prepared for how to respond to a shooting: Through regular active shooter drills, they knew to barricade themselves in classrooms and flee the school grounds quickly and fluidly. Other police officers among the more than 200 who eventually responded had done “alert training” and kept their marksmanship honed.
All of this, and still 10 people were killed and 13 wounded.
That a 17-year-old armed with his father’s revolver and shotgun could exact such a toll despite what officials here have called a swift, aggressive response further underlined the limits of training, preparation and readiness.
“Luckily, the body count’s not higher,” Sheriff Trochesset said at a news conference on Monday.
The sheriff told reporters that the two officers — one of whom was critically wounded by the gunman — had kept the suspect, identified as Dimitrios Pagourtzis, “contained and engaged” as scores of officers from across the area rushed to the school to evacuate students and educators.
“It was contained in that one area, which saved so many lives,” he said. “And again, I’m going to take it personal: three doors down, my granddaughter was in that room. I think they’re heroes, everybody that was out there that stayed engaged with him.”
Sheriff Trochesset said the gunman tried to shoot at the police, and that officers fired “minimal” shots during a standoff before the suspect surrendered. Mr. Pagourtzis faces multiple murder charges and is now being held in the county jail under suicide watch, the sheriff said.
The sheriff said he did not believe that any of the 10 people who were killed were shot by law enforcement officers, but he said he could not definitively confirm that until after autopsies were performed. He declined to say how many officers fired their weapons.
“Again, this is a fluid investigation that is still ongoing,” he said.
The officers’ rush to confront the gunman offered a sharp contrast to how a Florida sheriff’s deputy responded to gunshots at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in a Feb. 14 attack that left 17 people dead. The former Broward County deputy, Scot Peterson, was criticized for taking cover behind a wall and not heading inside to confront the gunman during the deadly six-minute rampage.
Sheriff Trochesset had special praise for Officer John Barnes, one of the two officers who first confronted the gunman. Officer Barnes was gravely wounded by a shotgun blast to the right arm, and remained in critical condition on Monday, the sheriff said.
“Officer Barnes is a hero,” the sheriff said. “The two officers that engaged that individual within four minutes, or approximately four minutes — they’re heroes. They contained him in that one area, isolated to them and engaging with them, so he did no more damage to other classes.”
Officer Barnes’s gun was out and his arm was extended, family members said, but it was not clear whether he had fired.
As he lay bleeding on the floor of the school, Officer Barnes urged the other officer to leave him behind and see to the students, according to his stepfather, Ronald Hatchett. The other officer later returned and tied a tourniquet around Officer Barnes’s arm.
“It was entirely within his character to do what he did,” Mr. Hatchett said of his stepson in an interview on Sunday. “He was first through the door. He suffered for being first through the door.”