Family of suspect Dimitrios Pagourtzis express sorrow. Eight students and two teachers killed, at least 10 injured. Texas high school shooting prompts talk of ‘contagion effect’
Officials have released the names of the victims of the Santa Fe high school shooting, confirming that eight students and two teachers died when a student hid a shotgun and a revolver under a trench coat and then opened fire on an art class.
The Galveston County medical examiner and sheriff said in a statement those killed were: Glenda Perkins, Cynthia Tisdale, Kimberly Vaughan, Shana Fisher, Angelique Ramirez, Christian Riley Garcia, Jared Black, Sabika Sheikh, Christopher Jake Stone and Aaron Kyle McLeod.
Perkins and Tisdale were teachers. The others were students.
The massacre, in a town of 13,000 about 35 miles south-east of Houston, was the deadliest US school shooting since 17 students and educators died in Parkland, Florida, three months ago. At least 10 people were injured. A hospital said on Saturday one was in good condition, one was serious and one was critical.
Pupils who had been anticipating graduation and a long summer break were left to prepare to bury their friends. The NFL star JJ Watt, of the Houston Texans, reportedly offered to pay for the funerals. Hundreds of people attended a prayer vigil on Friday, a couple of miles from the school.
Handcuffed and with his head bowed, Dimitrios Pagourtzis was charged with capital murder. Mumbling “yes sir” and “no sir”, he requested a court-appointed attorney. He was not required to enter a plea. He faces life imprisonment. The US supreme court ruled in 2005 that it is unconstitutional to execute people for crimes committed under the age of 18.
On Saturday, Pagourtzis’s family said in a statement they were “as shocked and confused as anyone else”, adding: “What we have learned from media reports seems incompatible with the boy we love.” The family shared “the public’s hunger for answers”, they said.
Ashton Wardrup, 16, said students had been confused when the fire alarm went off during first period on Friday, wondering if it was a drill. Then they heard gunshots and teachers urgently told them to evacuate.
“We heard a loud pop,” Wardrup told the Guardian. “I thought it was an explosion, and everybody just took off. We got around the corner and then they told us to stand right there so they could get a head count, then they sent us to the Shell station [next to the campus] and that’s when the panicking started, parents started coming in, saw cops – every five seconds there was a group of cops coming in.”
The school, which has about 1,400 students, entered lockdown in February over fears of gunfire. On Friday, there was confusion over whether to evacuate or shelter in place.
“February I had a plan if somebody was coming because we were in a classroom; we knew there could have been an active shooter so we could make a plan of if they do come into the room, what to do. Today, there was no plan at all,” Wardrup said. “Today my only thought was run. I thought about turning around and going to help. At times I do feel bad for that, for not turning round and going to help but I don’t know how much I could have done.”
Greg Abbott, the Texas governor, told reporters Pagourtzis had no criminal history and there had been no clear red flags. He said the suspect planned to kill himself but “didn’t have the courage” and that the weapons appeared to be legally owned by his father.
On Saturday a Galveston County judge, Mark Henry, said explosive devices found by authorities were carbon dioxide canisters taped together and a pressure cooker with an alarm clock and nails inside. None could have exploded, he said. Henry also said police exchanged “a lot of firepower” with Pagourtzis.
Students were allowed to collect belongings and vehicles, escorted by police. In a press conference, Randy Weber, US congressman for the district, noted that the area was still recovering from Hurricane Harvey. “Santa Fe is what I call a salt of the earth community,” he said. “We will once again laugh. It’ll be a while but we’ll get through this.”
Pagourtzis posted a photograph of a T-shirt with the slogan “Born to Kill” on Facebook last month and had a trench coat decorated with pins, including a German military symbol sometimes associated with Nazis. According to an affidavit, he told police “he did not shoot students he did like so he could have his story told”.
He played on the defensive line for the junior varsity football team, where Wardrup was a team-mate. “I would never have expected it to be him,” he said. “When I heard that the name was Dimitrios I was trying to find a different one because he was one of our football players. He was always after school working hard, he was always there, you’d always see him.”
Wardrup said Pagourtzis was quiet with an even temperament and did not stand out, despite his habit of wearing the trenchcoat whatever the weather. “He’s been wearing it for years,” he said. “Never suspected anything of it. It was just something he wore, just his style of fashion.”
Another football player, Kaleb Wisko, 17, said: “He never came across as disturbed or anything like that. He always seemed normal, friendly for the most part … he just practiced with us just like any other team-mate.
“We talked about [the coat], that it’s kind of different. We figured that it meant something to him and he never came off as weird or anything like that. This year it seemed like almost every day he wore the coat to school. So it was a normal thing. So to see him in this coat, you wouldn’t think twice that maybe there was a weapon underneath.”
In their statement, the Pagourtzis family said they were “gratified by the public comments made by other Santa Fe High School students that show Dimitri as we know him: a smart, quiet, sweet boy”.
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