Police: Wyo. murder-suicide happened during class
December 1, 2012
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A man wielding a sharp-edged weapon killed one person in a Casper neighborhood Friday before killing a male teacher and himself in front of students in a community college classroom, causing a campus-wide lockdown as authorities tried to piece together what happened.
Police found the suspect and teacher dead at a science building on the Casper College campus, which was locked down for about two hours, school and police officials said. The other victim, a woman, was found in a street about two miles away.
Casper Police Chief Chris Walsh said the murder-suicide took place in a classroom with students present, but he didn’t know how many students or what the class topic was.
He said investigators were still trying to determine a motive.
Walsh said an “edged weapon” was used it at least one of the killings, but he didn’t offer specifics and it was unclear if the same or a similar weapon was used in all of the deaths.
The attacker wasn’t believed to be a Casper College student and it appeared he knew the victims, Walsh said. No names were released.
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“We’re locating next of kin and working on notification absolutely as fast as we can,” Walsh said.
He added authorities didn’t believe there was any further threat to the community.
“I want to emphasize that this is a horrible tragedy,” Walsh said. “And I want the city to … just feel safe right now. There is no one at large.”
The attack at the two-year community college in Casper, about 250 miles northwest of Denver, occurred just before 9 a.m. in a classroom on the science building’s third floor. All students and staff were evacuated from the building.
The college sent out a campus-wide alert via text message and email within two minutes of receiving word of the attack at 9:06 a.m., school spokesman Rich Fujita said. The lockdown ended at about 11 a.m. after school officials received word that police were no longer searching for a suspect, Fujita said.
There are fewer classes on Fridays than any other day of the week at Casper College, so only between 1,500 and 2,000 of the college’s 5,000 students were there, he added.
One of them, freshman Pearson Morgan, was in a math class on the first floor of the science building when his instructor relayed the news in a state of shock.
“My teacher was just so sick, he said, ‘You can just leave,'” Morgan said.
Morgan walked outside his classroom to find a female student crying. He then turned to see two or three officers with assault rifles bounding up the stairs. Then, all the classrooms emptied and a crush of students carried him outside, but nobody panicked, Morgan said.
“There was a large group of students behind me,” he said. “There was a lot of confusion.”
Political science instructor Chris Henrichsen said he was showing the film “Frost/Nixon” to his Wyoming and U.S. government class when he stepped into the hall to get something for a student and was told a homicide had occurred on campus.
He went back to his classroom, where students were getting messages about the campus lockdown on their phones.
“We locked the door and waited for further instruction,” Henrichsen said.
The students were later sent home, but some who parked near a different campus building where the attack occurred had to leave their cars there, Henrichsen said.
About two miles away, Dave Larsen said he was headed to the gym when he drove past a body in a gutter with two people standing over it, one talking on a cellphone.
Larsen lives about a block from the location of the body, a well-kept neighborhood of mostly single-story houses.
Emergency vehicles had the street blocked off Friday afternoon.
Police provided some details in a news conference streamed live by the Casper Star-Tribune (http://trib.com/).
Walsh said 33 law enforcement officers from different agencies responded to the college after receiving reports of the attack. He said authorities first thought it might have been an “active-shooter-type situation.”
“We quickly contained the building and started a sweep through the building,” he said.
Walsh said that within minutes of the initial call, there was another report of a traumatic injury about two miles southwest of campus. That victim was found in the street, the Star-Tribune reported.
Classes were canceled for the rest of the day at the school, one of seven community colleges in Wyoming.
A meeting was held in the afternoon for the 150 teachers and students who remained. College president Walt Nolte addressed them, calling it the worst day of his more than 40 years in higher education. He encouraged the community to come together, Fujita said
“It is particularly painful because of our size,” Fujita said of the small, tight-knit campus.
Counselors were speaking to students and planned to be available through the weekend. About 450 students live on campus.
Classes were to resume on Monday.
“We agreed it doesn’t do any good to just set the students loose. It makes the most sense to have them come back to campus, where they can get help if they need help and come to terms with what happened,” Fujita said.
The college plans a candlelight vigil and memorial service on Tuesday.
Walsh said police train for such incidents but had no warning of Friday’s violence.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, who went to the campus Friday evening, said it was too early to assess security precautions at the college.
“There’s no sense in doing that now until we understand fully what has taken place,” he said.
The governor added that the focus now “should be on the victims’ family, the community college family, the president, the trustees and the students, and making sure we’re attending to any of their needs.”
Wyoming’s three congressional delegates issued a joint statement lauding responders and expressing condolences to those affected.
“Any loss of life is tragic, especially when it hits so close to home for so many of us,” Sen. Mike Enzi said. “What took place today is a reminder to always look out for one another in our communities and neighborhoods.”
Casper College opened in 1945 as the state’s first junior college and moved to its current site 10 years later. The campus consists of 28 buildings on more than 200 acres. The college provides more than 140 academic-transfer, technical and career programs.
Wyoming has only one four-year university, the University of Wyoming in Laramie, which serves more than 13,000 students.
Casper is Wyoming’s second-largest city with a population of about 56,000. Wyoming residents refer to it as the “Oil City” because it’s a hub for the state’s oil industry.