The victim, whose name was not revealed, was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was in critical condition, authorities said. Police also declined to identify the suspect, whom witnesses said was grabbed by a guidance counselor and a teacher, who wrestled the gun from him and perhaps prevented further harm.
Sophomore Nick DiPaula said his lunch period was almost over when he heard a bang and he and a friend turned around to see what it was.
“We just see him with the gun and he’s aiming it at my table,” said DiPaula, 15.
A school counselor he identified as Jesse Wasmer ran over and tackled the gunman, DiPaula said, as he and other students hit the floor and another teacher started yelling, “Get out of the building, get out of the building!”
Police said they do not believe the victim was targeted.
It was “overwhelming,” said Julia Schoennagel, 14, a freshman. “It was my first day, and I was excited to meet my teachers and see who was in my classes,” she said. “It was unreal, I couldn’t believe it. You never think that would happen at your school.”
Police said the student entered the cafeteria shortly before 10:45 a.m., removed a weapon that he had concealed and discharged it. Police have the weapon, but have not confirmed the kind of gun.
Baltimore County Superintendent S. Dallas Dance, who was hired in the spring to lead the school district, praised the “heroic, brave faculty” at the school, which was named one of “America’s Best High Schools” by Newsweek for 2010.
Dance said Perry Hall High will be open Tuesday with additional security at the school.
The shooting turned the first day of classes at the county’s largest high school, with almost 2,200 students, into a crime scene, with police helicopters whirring overhead, distraught parents trying to reach their children and students diving under cafeteria tables.
Police officers were already at the school, standard procedure for the first day of classes. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said police and school officials responded in “terrific fashion” to the shooting.
“Obviously it’s a difficult world we live in today and I kind of hoped that Baltimore County would be immune from this type of activity,” Kamenetz said. “But apparently we’re not.”
The shooting prompted swift reaction from elected officials, including Gov. Martin O’Malley, who said he had spoken with Kamenetz about the incident. “It takes all of us working together to make our schools safer for our children,” O’Malley said.
Students were escorted to the nearby Perry Hall Shopping Center, where parents were instructed to meet them, police said. Hundreds of visibly shaken parents and others gathered at the shopping center as police helicopters hovered overhead.
Students such as DiPaula were able to text or call parents, siblings and friends, although at least initially, incomplete information led to some confused and frightening moments.
“He pointed it at me but I’m OK,” DiPaula texted his father, John DiPaula, who was at work and had no idea what his son meant.
Soon, though, a co-worker told him about the shooting, which sent the elder DiPaula into a panic because he then couldn’t reach his son. Nick DiPaula told him later he was unable to text back because teachers were taking away students’ cellphones.
“I thought that was the most ridiculous thing,” John DiPaula said. “He’s afraid to call me because they’re going to take his phone away? I mean, when is it appropriate to use your phone in school? Can you think of any better time than today?”