Police chief: Gun was fired during struggle at NCHS

2012-09-17T21:20:00Z 2012-09-19T19:38:43Z Police chief: Gun was fired during struggle at NCHSBy Edith Brady-Lunny |

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.

Shooting timeline

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.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) Comments

  1. One Who Knows
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    One Who Knows - September 18, 2012 1:16 pm
    I was at work and received first contact at 10:15! Was left phone mail at home earlier, but that didn't help! My cellphone #s on record, but never got a call. Glad my boy carries his cell and texted me, even tho it's against school policy. How they update the policy.
  2. Machrophobic
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    Machrophobic - September 18, 2012 10:47 am
    How do you know I'm not prejudiced against white people?
  3. thoughts a million
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    thoughts a million - September 18, 2012 8:54 am
    Not having owned a gun, thanks for shedding some light on a similar situation.
  4. Trip
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    Trip - September 18, 2012 8:05 am
    annieoakley, You say you are not joking, but where is the fund that should be started for this young here in our midst. The fact of the matter is that as a first year teacher, there is a good chance that we will be let go at the end of the school year. Where will all of the thankful parents be then? Now is the perfect time for every NCHS parent to cough up $10.00 each for this young man. Ten dollars is a small price to pay for the safety of your child, and let's face it, he did what it took to keep those kids safe. That fund would be a great "safety net" for young Derrick.
  5. SnappingTurtle
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    SnappingTurtle - September 18, 2012 7:27 am
    Speaking from one who has been there, we had the key hid we thought. Didn't work. He got the pistol w/o our knowledge. We were having troubles with him and I asked my husband if he had checked his gun cabinet lately. He checked and saw the pistol was missing. We confronted our son and got it back. But he got into trouble anyway. His friend got a pistol from his grandfather's gun cabinet and shot it in our truck with our son driving so he was present and responsible too. Ironic thing was my son had just turned 17, he was tried adult and it follows him to this day. The boy he that made the shot in the air was 16, he was tried as a juvenile. By the way, for you racists out there, we are white!
  6. annieoakley
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    annieoakley - September 18, 2012 7:20 am
    Oh heck, let's face reality here, just write the man a blank check for saving the lives of hundreds if not thousands of students! :op I am not kidding or joking either. I am not picking fun. What this young man did was go beyond the call of duty. Being a teacher is hero enough having to deal with some of these children but to do this? We need more teachers like this guy and not those who are burnt up!
  7. BC
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    BC - September 18, 2012 6:33 am
    Yes, unless it can be proven the kid took a sledge hammer to a secure, locked gun storage that morning after the parents left the house.
  8. ActTwo
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    ActTwo - September 18, 2012 1:13 am
    The fact that Derrick Schonauer was the last teacher hired by Unit 5 this year and then placed in the same room as the gunman? I'd call that a gift from God!
  9. Smartone
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    Smartone - September 17, 2012 10:28 pm
    thoughts a million. I have the same opinion as yours since adults of a home would be legally and criminally responsible for having alcohol in a home and letting underage drinkers drink with or without supervision. If it isn't law about parents being held responsible for under age kids about getting hold of their guns and threatening others like this it should be. If you read homeowner's liability policies these types of incidents are indeed mentioned as parents being liable financially. I just am so thankful that this teacher knew what he had to do in this situation and did it. The teacher is a hero no matter if he thinks so or not. This could have ended so much different, but thanks to this brave teacher for putting his own life on the line, this ended with the best possible outcome in this case. Parents if you have weapons, then lock them up where someone else cannot access them. You are liable for kids actions against others until they are of age like it or not. You are responsible for medical costs, property damage, emotional distress, and many more financial areas in their behaviors. Again, I am so grateful to this teacher for his quick thinking and guts to do what he had to do in a moment of chaos and crisis. You are not only the students and teachers hero in that high school, you are of the entire communitys too for such brave actions.
  10. thoughts a million
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    thoughts a million - September 17, 2012 10:06 pm
    OK, now that it's a matter of public record that the guns came from the suspect's home, what are the next steps? Aren't parents (or those over 18) held responsible when under-aged juveniles get access to guns that are used in this manner?
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