The 15-year-old Wisconsin boy who took his teacher and 24 classmates hostage at gunpoint in a five-hour ordeal before shooting himself has died of his wounds, police announced today.
The gunman, identified as Marinette High School sophomore Sam Hengel, was prounced dead by the county coroner this morning, Marinette Police Chief Jeff Skorik said.
Police have no leads on the boy's motive. He was described by classmates as quiet but likable, and the principal called Hengel a good student.
"He's the one person who could answer the 'why' question," Marinette County District Attorney Allen Brey said. "We'll all speculate. We'll all wonder. Were there any warning signs? The one guy that could give us those answers is gone. ... We may never truly know why this happened."
The Hengel family released a statement this afternoon, saying "Our family is extremely distraught over the events that have taken place over the course of the last 24 hours that have concluded with the passing of our son."
They said they wished they "knew and could provide the insight to what led Sam to take these drastic acts" and "there were no indicators to make us think something was wrong."
His family described Sam as someone who was "active in the Boy Scouts, tae kwan do, loved his iTouch and was an avid outdoorsman." He loved hunting and fishing, and "anything that included his family and the outdoors," topics his classmates used when talking to Sam while he held them hostage.
The coroner has ordered an autopsy including toxicology tests, but Skorik said he had no reason to believe Hengel was under the influence of any kind of drug.
Today, as the blue-collar, ship-building town struggled to understand, they gave thanks for one teacher whose efforts prevented further tragedy.
Valerie Burd, a 10-year veteran, stayed on the phone with police while the gunman refused to talk and directed arriving students to the safety of the library.
Today her supervisors praised Burd for her calm and bravery in a dangerous situation.
"She saved the lives of many students by her calm demeanor," Marinette High School Principal Corry Lambie said.
"I made her aware of how proud I was of her," Lambie said. "Her leadership in that classroom was the calming attitude that the students needed to get them out of there safely."
Marinette School Superintendent Tim Baneck echoed the principal: "I can't say enough about the dedication of the teacher who was really instrumental."
Last fall the school went through training drills about how to respond to a potential school shooter, Baneck said. It is unclear if Burd took part in that drill.
The students in the classroom took a cue from their teacher, engaging Hengel in hours of small talk to try to ease the tense situation.
"I was scared for the first two hours. My legs were shaking," sophomore Austin Biehl said, but "overall, everyone remained calm, and just kept talking to him."
Lambie said the students "handled it perfectly."
On Monday afternoon, police received a phone call from the principal, alerting authorities that a students in a western civilization class were being held at gunpoint on the campus.
The class was watching a film about Greek myths when Hengel left the classroom after asking to use the restroom. Police believe he then stopped by his locker and returned moments later with a duffle bag.