Hero teacher who faced Taft High School shooter has dedicated his life to school

January 11, 2013

Ryan Heber dedicated his life to Taft Union High School in California long before he took a bullet in his science classroom Thursday.

His mother taught English at the school for 24 years, according to the student paper. His wife, Emmy Lou, works in the business office. His father, also a teacher, once subbed at the school, according to school board documents. And Heber, a Taft graduate himself, served a wide variety of extracurricular functions outside the classroom, advising the sophomore class, overseeing the school’s weight room, co-organizing prom and teaching driver’s ed classes after school.

Heber drew wide attention Thursday when he talked down an armed student who brought a rifle to his first-period science class, planning to target “bullies.” The student shot at Heber and one of his classmates, currently in critical condition, before the teacher persuaded him to put his weapon down. Heber was grazed by a stray bullet, but not otherwise hurt.

According to the Associated Press, the student told Heber, “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Heber was, by all accounts, a popular teacher at Taft. “Mr Heber and Kim [Fields] are both the greatest guys ever,” one student tweeted, also referring to the guidance counselor who joined Heber to help talk the gunman down. “No doubt they would stop a messed up situation they treated [everyone with] respect.”

“What kind of person would shoot two of the nicest people at Taft High?” Another student wrote.

In addition to teaching integrated science, Heber advised the sophomore class in the 2012-2013 school year and previously advised both freshman and juniors, according to published school board agendas. For several years he has overseen the school’s weight room and taught driver’s ed, where he bought donuts for the kids in his car, according to one student’s tweets.

His wife also coached cheerleading and danced in the school talent show with several teachers, reports the student paper. Photos on Emy-Lou Heber’s Facebook page show the couple with two young children, both boys.

Heber’s mother, Carol Sue, was an institution at the school. She chaired the English department before retiring in 2010, when students remembered her as “one of the most positive and loving teachers on campus.”

In an interview with The Bakersfield Californian, David Heber described his son as “not the kind of teacher a student would try to hurt” and “definitely someone who could talk a kid down in an emergency.” On Twitter, students seemed equally unsurprised that it was Heber who prevented a larger tragedy at the school.

“All I’m saying is that somebody had to have put a stop to the kids [sic] plan,” one student tweeted Thursday. “And I want to know who it is so I can go shake his ... hand.”

“Heber is my bet,” another student tweeted back minutes later.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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