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Third student dies in Kentucky school shooting

Gunman had warned of 'something big'

Scene of the shooting
Lobby where the shooting occurred   
December 2, 1997
Web posted at: 4:06 a.m. EST (0906 GMT)

WEST PADUCAH, Kentucky (CNN) -- A 14-year-old student died late Monday after hours on life support, bringing the total to three teens killed and five wounded when a high school freshman opened fire on classmates in an informal prayer circle in the school's lobby Monday morning.

Nicole Hadley was declared dead around 10 p.m. She had been "in the process of declaration of brain death" and died shortly after she was taken off a life support system, a spokeswoman at Western Baptist Hospital in nearby Paducah, Kentucky, said. Two other girls died earlier Monday from wounds suffered during the shooting at Heath High School in West Paducah.

The gunman, who was arrested immediately afterward, had warned last week that "something big's going to happen" but students took it to mean he planned a prank, school principal Bill Bond said.

Asked by sheriff's detectives why he shot his classmates, the gunman told them he didn't know.

Eyewitness Ben Heady describes the aftermath of the shooting
icon 416K/35 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

"He stated there was no personal vendetta against anyone, it was just a random shooting," McCracken County Sheriff Frank Augustus said.

Bond said the boy told him afterward, "I'm sorry."

Authorities have not released the boy's name because of his age. He was charged as a juvenile with murder, attempted murder and burglary. Augustus said authorities would attempt to charge him as an adult, enabling prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Boy described as good student

The incident took place at about 7:45 a.m. About 35 or 40 students were holding hands in a circle for a brief, informal prayer service next to the principal's office when the suspect pulled a gun from his backpack and fired about 10 to 12 shots. About a dozen other people were standing nearby.

Fellow students described the boy as a 'B' student who had only been in minor trouble.

"I heard gunshots, about 10 in a row, just bang, bang, bang, bang bang," said student Ben Heady, 17.

The leader of the prayer group, a pastor's son, rushed the boy as he was firing, imploring him to stop.

The boy kept firing but finally stopped and put down the gun with one bullet left in it. Bond arrived about that time and picked up the gun. The boy surrendered calmly to the principal.

Ben Strong, the prayer group leader, said the boy hung out with a group of people who claimed not to believe in God, and sometimes heckled the morning worshippers. He said numerous shots rang out before he realized what was happening.

"I seen some people fall, and I seen blood," Strong said. "And I just ran over there. ... I was just telling him to be calm, drop the gun, whatever. And he just slouched down and dropped the gun."

Strong added that the boy had told him last week, without elaboration, not to be at Monday's prayer circle.

"I didn't think he would actually go to those extremes," he said.

Fifteen-year-old Kayce Steger died at Lourdes Hospital in Paducah about 45 minutes after the shooting. Seventeen-year-old Jessica James died in surgery at Western Baptist Hospital Monday afternoon.

Sheriff Frank Augustus   

Three girls -- ages 14, 15, and 16 -- were hospitalized in stable condition with gunshot wounds. Two boys -- ages 15 and 17 -- were treated for injuries and released.

Augustus said the suspect acquired the gun used in the shooting -- a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun -- during a burglary at a home on Thanksgiving Day.

He also entered the school with earplugs, two shotguns and two .22-caliber rifles, which were wrapped in a blanket. The boy had brought the weapons to school claiming they were props for a science project, Augustus said.

Heath High School, just west of Paducah, has an enrollment of 550 students in grades nine through 12. Classes were dismissed for the day after the shootings.


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