Twin School Shootings Shake Nation, Increase Mistrust in School Safety Measures

By JULIA PARKER and JESSICA LYNN DEPAULA

Students at the Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nevada were leaving buses and joining their friends when gunshots destroyed the morning calm. Police say that one of the Sparks Middle School students, Jose Reyes, was the sole gunman who allegedly injured two young classmates, killed himself and took the life of an 8th grade math teacher trying to save the others. The teacher, former serviceman Michael Landsberry, 45, is being hailed for attempting to save the lives of these young children. "We have a lot of heroes today, including our children ... and our fallen hero, an amazing teacher," Washoe County School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez said to the Contra-Costa Times immediately following the gruesome incident.

There is still no supplied motive for the shooting, and the gun supposedly belonged to the child’s parents. The 12-year-old wounded students were listed in stable condition. One was shot in the shoulder, and the other was hit in the abdomen.

Parents clung to their teary-eyed children at an evacuation center, while the community struggled to figure out what had happened in the latest episode of schoolyard violence to rock the nation, less than a year after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Sparks, a city of roughly 90,000 that sprung out of the railway industry, lies just east of Reno.

"It's not supposed to happen here," Chanda Landsberry, the slain teacher's sister-in-law, was quoted as saying in an MSN article the following day. "We're just Sparks -- little Sparks, Nevada. It's unreal."

Investigators have pieced together that Reyes was dropped off at the school with the unknown presence of the gun in his bag. Within minutes, the 12-year-old is accused of having shot one boy in the shoulder, and another in the abdomen. Landsberry was shot in the chest.

"They got it under control very quickly and shut down the scene," said Sparks Mayor Geno Martini, who urged listeners on a local radio station hours after the shooting to be sure all guns in their homes are locked away safely.

"As you can imagine, the best description is chaos," Reno Deputy Police Chief Tom Robinson said to the Christian Science Moniter.

It was no shock to family members that Landsberry -- a married military veteran with two stepdaughters -- would take a bullet. "To hear that he was trying to stop that is not surprising by any means," said Chanda Landsberry. She added his life could be summed up by his love of family, his students and his country. On his school website, Michael Landsberry posted a picture of a brown bear and took on a tough-love tone, telling students, "I have one classroom rule and it is very simple: 'Thou Shall Not Annoy Mr. L.'"

Meanwhile, in Danvers, Massachusetts, another beloved math teacher was brutally murdered, also allegedly by a student, the following day. Danvers Police say Elizabeth Ritzer, a hugely popular 24-year-old teacher at Danvers High School, was stabbed to death by a 14-year-old student she had asked to stay after school for extra help.

Ritzer, whose Twitter account described her as “a math teacher often too excited about the topics [she is] teaching,” began her short but memorable career at DHS two years ago, and was remembered by students at a nighttime vigil sprawling with Danvers teens, some whom she had taught in her algebra and geometry classes, and others who had simply enjoyed and respected her presence in the school.

“She saw him drawing during class and she just said to him, ‘I didn’t know you could draw,’” said Rania Rhaedaoui, a freshman, in a statement given to Boston.com. "I sit really close to him, so I could hear.”

Events such as these are becoming uncomfortably common in this nation. Every day, parents entrust the safety of their children, from toddling 4-year-olds to angsty elementary schoolers to teenagers buried in college applications, with teachers, counselors, principals, and still, these types of tragedies occur at an almost systematic pace.

What is the cause of these tragedies? Why do they happen? Is it the failing mental health care system? The indisbutable lack of gun control in this nation? The dwindling importance placed on family values, and increased respect for that ultra-violent ray of light in the life of the typical tormented teen, video games?

Martini said Landsberry served two tours in Afghanistan with the Nevada National Guard and was well known in the school community. "He proudly served his country and was proudly defending the students at his school," he said. The mayor has praised the quick response from law officers who arrived at the scene within 3 minutes of the initial 911 calls to find the gunman who had caused himself a bullet wound in the head.

"We came flying down here to get our kids," said Mike Fiorica, who came to the evacuation center to meet up with his nephew, a Sparks Middle school student. "You can imagine how parents are feeling. You don't know if your kid's OK."

Students from the Sparks Middle School and neighboring elementary school were evacuated to the nearby high school, and classes were canceled. The middle school remained closed for the week along with an adjacent elementary school.

The children have since returned to the school, now feeling somewhat safe again with smiles on their faces, starting off with a moment of silence for the victims. There are adults walking around, making sure there will be no chaos, but not enough to cause the kids any anxiety.

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