NORMAL — The final shot fired from a handgun during a Sept. 7 incident in a Normal Community High School classroom came during a struggle between a teacher and the student who allegedly brought three handguns to school.
A 14-year-old freshman faces 16 charges in juvenile court related to several shots he allegedly fired about 8 a.m. as his health class was about to end.
Authorities said several rounds were fired inside the classroom, but no one was injured in the incident that forced the evacuation of the school’s 1,800 students.
“Several shots were fired. We believe one was during the struggle for the weapon,” Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said during an interview Monday with The Pantagraph.
First-year teacher Derrick Schonauer is credited with subduing the suspect who displayed a weapon as he walked to the front of the room, according to police.
The three handguns the teen is accused of bringing to school came from his home, said Bleichner.
The student’s backpack also contained a hatchet, two knives, a flammable liquid, matches and a rag, police said.
Statements from students in the class of about 30 teenagers include stories of a weapon being pointed in their direction by the suspect, who detained them during the 10-minutes ordeal, said Bleichner.
“He certainly was holding people against their will and that makes them hostages. This was an unfortunate situation that had a fortunate ending,” said Bleichner.
A few students “were able to escape from the room,” said Bleichner. The information those students passed on to school staff helped police evaluate what type of situation they were dealing with, said the chief.
McLean County State’s Attorney Ron Dozier echoed Bleichner’s sentiments that the traumatic situation could have ended in tragedy if the teacher had not gained control of the suspect.
“This community was very fortunate,” said Dozier.
No decision has been reached on whether the state will ask that the suspect be charged in adult court, said Dozier.
The boy, whose name is not a matter of public record because his case is in juvenile court, will undergo a psychological evaluation.
Police collected evidence from the suspect’s home during a search conducted hours after the incident, said Bleichner. He declined to say what was taken by officers.
A police sweep of the school after the student was taken into custody turned up no additional weapons or threats to school safety.
The massive police response to the shots fired in the classroom came within minutes from the McLean County Sheriff’s Department and Twin Cities police forces, said Bleichner, and calls also came from out-of-town agencies as word of the potential tragedy spread outside the community.
Offers to help came from Champaign-Urbana police and the FBI in Springfield, he said.
The suspect is due back in court Oct. 1. He remains in the county’s juvenile detention center.
Following is an account of what happened during the gunfire incident Sept. 7 at Normal Community High School:
7:15 a.m.: Classes begin at NCHS.
8:05 a.m.: In Room 230, health class teacher Derrick Schonauer ends class and allows students to visit until first period officially ends. Moments later, a 14-year-old student allegedly walks to the front of the class with his backpack, which contained three handguns and other weapons.
8:10 a.m.: Normal police receive a call reporting a person with a gun inside NCHS. Several calls followed from both staff members and students.
8:14 a.m.: Callers from school indicate shots have been fired inside a classroom.
8:16 a.m.: Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner calls McLean County Unit 5 Superintendent Gary Niehaus to inform him of the information.
8:18 a.m.: Schonauer tackles the gunman and is assisted by students from the class. Police take the suspect into custody.
8:20 a.m.: Students are evacuated to Eastview Christian Church and Unit 5 sends its first message to parents through SchoolReach notifying them of the lockdown at NCHS.
9:20 a.m.: Unit 5 issues a news release confirming the gunfire, the fact that no one was injured, the apprehension of a student and the evacuation.
10:15 a.m.: Bleichner sends a news release confirming the shooter is the only person in custody. A news conference is set for 1:30 p.m.
1:30 p.m.: Bleichner and Niehaus hold a joint news conference at 1:30 p.m. at Unit 5 district offices.