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Students return to New Mexico school two days after shooting

By Chandrika Narayan, Lateef Mungin and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 10:31 PM EST, Thu January 16, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Students return to New Mexico school for the first time since shooting
  • 12-year-old faces three charges of aggravated battery, court documents
  • Shooter's father bought the gun used in the shooting
  • His parents say a judge ordered that their son receive mental health treatment

(CNN) -- New Mexico's Berrendo Middle School reopened its doors two days after a preteen with a sawed-off shotgun opened fire in a crowded gymnasium.

Police are still investigating the shooting that left two students seriously injured and the suspected shooter in custody.

As students and teachers trickled back to school Thursday, the community turned out to show support.

Crowds lined up on the road near the campus, cheering as the school buses appeared.

They waved flags, and black and gold streamers. They held up signs with the words "Love," "Hope," "Faith," and "Courage."

Gov. Susana Martinez greeted the students as well.

"They have a counselor in every single classroom," Martinez told CNN affiliate KOAT. "There are people here supporting them in everything they need."

She said both the children and their teachers needed counseling.

For many parents, bringing their kids to school Thursday was not an easy decision. Some said it was happening too soon, but others said their kids needed to return.

"I told her last night she didn't have to go if she didn't feel like she wanted to, and she said, 'well, I can't be scared to go to school,' is what she told me this morning," Florence Dosher Nieto told CNN affiliate KRQE.

Another parent said she is looking into home schooling.

The attack has rattled residents of Roswell, a city about 200 miles southeast of Albuquerque. It is the latest community in the United States to go from a relatively peaceful enclave to a site of a school shooting, joining places like Littleton, Colorado, Paducah, Kentucky, and Newtown, Connecticut.

Tuesday's incident is also the second one at a middle school in the last three months.

In October, a 12-year-old in Nevada opened fire with a handgun he took from his parents, killing a teacher and wounding two students before he eventually killed himself.

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Three shells and a plan

Police say the 12-year-old shooting suspect entered his middle school Tuesday morning with a 20-gauge pump shotgun that he had sawed off. He shot three rounds.

The first shot hit the ceiling, said New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas. The second went into the gym floor. The third sped toward the stands where, about 12 to 15 feet away, it hit two students who had been waiting with others for classes to start.

"We did find evidence that the suspect had planned this event," Kassetas said. "I can't discuss the particulars as to why."

He said the victims were targeted at random.

Police have carried out three search warrants and interviewed more than 60 people, Kassetas said.

The boy faces three counts of aggravated battery, according to New Mexico state juvenile court documents obtained by CNN affiliate KOAT.

The suspect's parents, Jim and Jennifer Campbell, and grandparents, Robert and Nancy Bowles, issued a statement Wednesday saying they are "praying that God will be with everyone who has been affected."

They didn't try to explain the shooter's actions, which left "his whole family ... heartbroken," though they didn't ignore his impact.

"For all of the anguish that many suffered yesterday," his parents and grandparents said, "our family offers our heartfelt condolences and remorse in words that we cannot fully express."

The family singled out the two hospitalized victims.

Victims still recovering

The victims were both taken to University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas -- about 175 miles east of the school

A 12-year-old boy is in critical condition with injuries to the side of his face and neck, according to Martinez, the governor. He has undergone at least two surgeries since the incident.

The other victim, 13-year-old Kendal Sanders, is in stable condition.

Police: Suspect took parents' gun

The suspect is being held at an unspecified location in Albuquerque and has met with his parents, Kassetas said.

In their statement, the parents indicated a judge "ordered ... our son receive an evaluation and mental health treatment and sincerely want him to receive all of the help that he needs."

"As a family we will cooperate in all ways with law enforcement to piece together how this awful tragedy occurred," they said.

Kassetas said the shotgun came from the suspect's home. His father had bought the gun -- the only one of several weapons in the house not locked in a safe -- at a Walmart, according to a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation.

Authorities believe the 12-year-old "modified the weapon by cutting off the stock," Kassetas said.

The search warrants executed in connection with the investigation were on the suspect's locker, his duffel bag and his Roswell home.

The law enforcement source said the suspect kept a handwritten journal at home describing "what he was planning, what he wanted to do."

But just before he fired, authorities believe, the suspect gave "preliminary warnings ... to some select students who he ran into before he entered the gymnasium," Kassetas said.

'Hero' teacher

Teacher John Masterson didn't know the shooter had used all his ammunition when he walked to the student and persuaded him to put the gun down, Martinez said.

"Mr. Masterson ... was a hero ... who stood there and allowed a gun to be pointed right at him," the governor said at a vigil Tuesday evening, "and to talk down that young boy to drop the gun so that there would be no more young kids hurt."

The Berrendo staff directory lists John Masterson as an eighth-grade social studies teacher.

Masterson has taught at the school for a decade and coaches track and soccer, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

When contacted by the newspaper, he said police had told him not to discuss details of the shooting.

"It was a harrowing experience," he told the paper. "All I can say was the staff there did a great job."

Teachers train to face school shooter

CNN's Susan Candiotti, Chuck Johnston and Vanessa Juarez contributed to this report.

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