A 15-year-old boy opened fire with a handgun just before classes started at his high school in rural western Kentucky on Tuesday, killing two fellow students and wounding a dozen other youths before he was arrested, the state's governor and police said.
The shooter, who has not been identified, entered a common area at Marshall County High School in Benton shortly before 8 a.m. CST (1400 GMT), pulled out a pistol and began firing at students, witnesses told local media.
"I see this guy draw from his side and he pulls out a pistol. I didn’t even know what was going on. And then it registered. About the time it registered, this guy was sitting here pulling the trigger into all of us," student Bryson Conkwright told TV station WKRN.
"I can hear the gunshots. He was shooting in our group," said Conkwright, showing where a bullet grazed his hand.
Authorities declined to discuss possible motives for the shooting. There was no immediate indication of how well the suspect knew the victims, but officials said he was believed to have acted alone and faces multiple charges of murder and attempted murder.
"There's no good answer for it," Governor Matt Bevin said at a news conference. "There's 1,000 hypotheses we're not going to go into."
The bloodshed at the school of nearly 1,150 students in a small farming town about 130 miles (210 km) northwest of Nashville, Tennessee, was the latest outbreak of gun violence that has become a regular occurrence at schools and college campuses across the United States over the past several years.
After the shooting, signs of chaos in the school were abundant, Marshall County Attorney Jeff Edwards told the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper.
"To walk in, the backpacks laying around, the phones laying around, going off … it’s indescribable,” he was quoted as saying.
Church vigils were planned for Tuesday evening.
A WOUNDED COMMUNITY
Tuesday's rampage occurred just 32 miles (52 km) from Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky, where in 1997 a 14-year-old boy opened fire on a group of students, killing three.
At Marshall County High, 14 students were hit by gunfire, two of them fatally, officials said. A 15-year-old girl was pronounced dead at the scene, and a 15-year-old boy died at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center's trauma unit in Nashville, Bevin and hospital officials said.
Four of the other gunshot patients brought to Vanderbilt were expected to survive, doctors said. Less severely wounded students were taken to other hospitals. Another five students suffered non-gunshot injuries, Bevin said, bringing the total number of injured to 17.
Bevin said the youth was apprehended at the school "in a nonviolent" manner, but the governor did not elaborate.
Sanders said students followed training they had recently received from state police in how to respond to such incidents.
No further details of the circumstances of the shooting were immediately released. The students involved were not identified.
Agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation joined the investigation, officials said at the news conference.
The school serves Marshall County, which has population of about 31,000.
During the news conference at the county Board of Education, Bevin's voice choked with emotion and he paused to collect himself. He asked the news media to exercise restraint in dealing with victims' families.
“I beg of you again - respect the fact that these children belong to this community and to specific families in this community. And this is a wound that is going take a long time to heal. And for some in this community it will never fully heal.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump had been briefed on the shooting. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families there," she said.
(Additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Peter Szekely in New York, Suzannah Gonzales and Chris Kenning in Chicago and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Writing by Steve Gorman and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)