MARYSVILLE Wash. (Reuters) – Authorities in Washington state worked on Saturday to find out what led a popular high school student to open fire on a group of classmates seated at a cafeteria table, killing one and wounding four others, including a pair of his cousins, before killing himself.
The Friday incident at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in the city of Marysville, north of Seattle, sent students fleeing from the building and sheltering under desks in the latest in a series of U.S. school shootings.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said on Saturday that officers had completed their on-scene investigation and recovered a 0.40 caliber handgun.
Police have not released the shooter’s identity, but a Marysville school official and multiple classmates said a well-liked freshman named Jaylen Fryberg was responsible for Friday’s rampage.
Students who knew Fryberg, a member of the Native American Tulalip Tribes, described him as an outgoing and popular football player, unlike the loner personality that is often associated with school shootings.
Authorities were also still piecing together a motive, interviewing about 100 witnesses, the sheriff’s department said Saturday.
Classmates and parents said the teen shooter had recently been in a dispute on the football field and had also been despondent over a break up.
Rebecca Cooley, whose son played football with Fryberg, said he had recently been in a fight with another player over a disparaging remark made during football practice.
“(Jaylen) broke the kids nose,” she said. “A lot of the football players stepped in during this fight,” she said.
A school official who did not want to be named and a friend of one of the female victims said he had been recently rejected by a girl who favored his cousin.
“I heard he asked her out and she rebuffed him and was with his cousin,” said Bella Panjeli, a ninth-grade student at a different school who said she was a friend of one female victim.
She added that she learned of the connection after talking to the victim’s family and friends on social media. “It was a fight over a girl.”
Witnesses said the shooter had targeted a single table in the cafeteria.
“He came up from behind and had a gun in his hand, and he fired about eight bullets,” student Jordan Luton told CNN. ” … They were his friends so it wasn’t just random.”
All five victims were under 18, medical officials said.
One female classmate was killed, police said. Her identity has not been released.
Fifteen-year-old Andrew Fryberg was shot in the head and remained in critical condition in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Saturday, a spokeswoman said. She said Nate Hatch, 14, was shot in the jaw and was in serious condition there.
Local media, community members and fellow students said the boys were cousins of the shooter.
Brandon Hatch, 26, a first cousin of Nate Hatch, said Andrew Fryberg and Nate are cousins of Jaylen, and the other victims were friends.
“As far as I knew they were all a bunch of bright kids and had a future,” he said. :I’ve heard rumors but can’t state fact on what provoked this. I’m just confused at this moment.”
The two female victims, Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, 14, and Gia Soriano, 14, remained in critical condition Saturday at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, said Dr. Joanne Roberts.
“The next three days are going to be crucial,” she said.
The sheriff’s office said a cafeteria worker had attempted to stop the shooter, who took his own life.
Vigils were planned through out the weekend.
Misty Himes, 30, drove with her friend to pick up her son after the shooting.
“Everybody is just torn up to see the kids so young have to go through this,” she said.
There were no indications on Fryberg’s social media accounts that he had been planning such a rampage, but on Tuesday he posted his feelings of despondency, apparently over a romantic split, on Twitter.
“It breaks me…It actually does…I know it seems like I’m sweating it off… But I’m not.. And I never will be able to,” he wrote.
Classmates said they were shocked that mass violence had come to their city.
Karalyn Demarest, 17, a senior at Marysville, added a bouquet of flowers to nearly a dozen that were lying against a fence at the school.
“It’s just really sad and tragic. You just never expect it to happen anywhere near you.”
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson and Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Franklin Paul)