Students and staff gather outside Central High School in Knoxville, Tenn., after Ryan McDonald, a sophomore, was fatally shot in the school's cafeteria early yesterday morning.
J. Miles Cary / AP Enlarge
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A student fatally shot a 15-year-old classmate yesterday at a high school, police said.
Other teenagers watched in horror as the victim clutched his chest and fell to the floor.
Police identified the victim as Ryan McDonald, a sophomore who lived with his grandmother and had alopecia, a condition that had left him bald since he was 3 and the target of endless teasing as a child.
"He tried to have a tough exterior, like a shield, to fit in," his uncle Roger McDonald said. "He was a good kid who was dealt some bad cards in life."
The shooting happened shortly after 8 a.m. at the Central High School cafeteria, Deputy Chief Bill Roehl said, and the suspected shooter was taken into custody six minutes later on a nearby street.
The suspect and victim knew each other, Knox County School System Superintendent Jim McIntyre said.
Jamar Siler, 15, was charged with one count of first-degree murder and was being held in a juvenile detention facility, police spokesman Darrell DeBusk said. Siler had an initial appearance in Juvenile Court late yesterday and was being held without bond. His lawyer, public defender Mark Stephens, refused to discuss the case.
"This wasn't a shooting that was a random act," Deputy Chief Roehl said. "It was an individual directing his aggression toward another individual, not the school or the students inside the school."
At a news conference last night, Mr. McIntyre said the school will reopen today, though more for counseling than for classes.
"I want to assure parents and others in this community that despite this tragic and isolated incident that our schools are safe," the superintendent of the 52,000-student system said. Those not attending will get an excused absence.
The cafeteria was a popular place to gather before classes started at 8:30 a.m., students said.
Chad Griffin, 15, and Josh Matthews, 14, said that they were sitting about 10 feet away from the victim and talking when they heard a sharp noise.
Young Griffin at first thought someone had dropped a book and then looked around.
"He got shot and started walking and he was holding his chest. There was blood everywhere. And then he fell and his arm hit me," the Griffin youth said.
Young Matthews said he thought it was a fake at first but then realized the shooting was real.
"I took off running and ran outside and called my mom," the Matthews youth said.
Students in the cafeteria began crying and scrambling to leave, while others tried to get in the room, thinking they had missed a fight, witnesses said. Students began to gather around the victim, said freshman Jared Wohlford, 14.
"Everybody started running out real fast saying, 'He got shot,'•" he said.
The school, which has about 1,400 students, was placed on lockdown after the shooting. Classes were dismissed and students were bused to a nearby church so they could be picked up by their parents.