A student gunman opened fire Friday morning in the cafeteria of Marysville-Pilchuck High School, north of Seattle, killing one person and critically wounding four others before turning the gun on himself, police said. Authorities declared the scene safe almost four hours after the incident, ahead of their investigation.
Three of the wounded victims — two females and one male — suffered head wounds and were rushed into surgery in "very critical condition" at nearby Providence Medical Center, said Dr. Joanne Roberts, chief medical officer at Providence Everett Regional Medical Center. The male was later moved to long-term pediatric care at Harborview Medical Center. One female was placed in the intensive care unit, and the other was taken back into the operating room for another surgery at Providence Medical to relieve pressure and bleeding from her brain.
An additional male patient, who was in less critical condition with an injury to his jaw, was transported from Providence to Harborview earlier in the day. He now remains in the intensive care unit.
Authorities identified the suspected gunman as Jaylen Ray Fryberg, a 14-year-old freshman at the high school.
Hours after the incident, staff at the hospitals still could not identify the victims, and used face-to-face contact with family representatives. All of the victims were younger than 18 years old, Marysville Police Cmdr. Robb Lamoureaux said during an evening press conference.
Lamoureaux would not immediately confirm whether the deceased victim, a female, was a student or staff member. He did not confirm where the deceased individuals were located when authorities found them nor the weapon used in the shooting. Authorities later confirmed the suspect legally acquired the firearm.
Just before 11 a.m. local time, officers responded to reports of shots fired inside the school, located about 40 miles north of Seattle. Police said they believed the suspected gunman acted alone. Multiple sources familiar with the suspect said he recently was going through a breakup with his former girlfriend.
The suspected gunman was allegedly a member of the Native American Tulalip Tribes.
"We as a society must address this issue," Herman Williams Sr., chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, said at an evening press conference. "We can always say that we watch it on TV, but, my, here it comes walking in our door."
About 30 students and staff members who witnessed the incident remained on school property throughout the evening to speak with detectives. All other faculty and students were evacuated and reunited with their families at a nearby church.
"There are really no words to describe this type of tragedy," City of Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said Friday afternoon during a press conference. He called the incident "a true community tragedy."
Earlier in the day, the school was placed on lockdown and FBI agents were deployed to the scene. Students — led by armed police — exited the building with their arms raised in the air.
Teachers and administrators at Marysville-Pilchuck, as well as in school districts around the country, previously participated in active-shooter drills to prepare and train for such situations.
"When something happens to one of our children, it happens to all of us," Marysville School District Superintendent Becky Berg wrote in a statement read by Lamoureaux at the news conference.
Multiple vigils around the area were planned for Friday night, including at Grove Church, St. Philips Episcopal Church, and Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Grief counselors were scheduled to be available at the district's office Friday night and Saturday morning for individuals affected by the tragedy.
"The loss of life today has left us grief-stricken and anguished — and I'm sure many young people and their parents are worried, too. Tonight, hug your children a little longer and seek comfort from loved ones. Take care of each other," the state's Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement.
President Barack Obama was briefed on the incident, White House officials confirmed.
The shooting came less than a month after two U.S. schools were placed on lockdown the same day following separate incidents – one in North Carolina and one in Kentucky – with individuals carrying and firing guns on academic grounds. Altogether, two people were shot, one associated with each situation.
Marysville Police Chief Rick Smith called on his community and the entire country "to look at what's going on" with mass shootings in the United States. "It's time for us to act and not just talk anymore," he said.
The incident also happened at the end of America's School Safety Week — a provocative national public awareness campaign for a future where no child is killed by a parent's firearm, launched earlier this month by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The new initiative included a report, titled “The Truth About Kids & Guns,” and a nationally televised public service announcement and digital advertisements featuring David Wheeler, whose son was killed in the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"Schools are supposed to be safe havens where children can learn, grow, and achieve. Clearly, we as a nation need to do more to protect our children," Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, said in a statement.
Shooting incidents when a gunman kills or wounds multiple people are becoming more frequent in the United States, specifically in the workplace or at schools, the FBI confirmed in a recent report that examined mass tragedies in the past 13 years. The “Active-Shooter Study,” released in September, analyzed 160 incidents in the country from 2000 to 2013, including the fatal shootings at Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, Sandy Hook, the Aurora movie theater, and the Washington Navy Yard. An average of 6.4 incidents occurred annually during the first seven years of the study. And about 16.4 shootings happened each year during the last seven years.
Almost half — 45.6% — of the incidents in the report took place in a commercial environment, and about 25% occurred in an educational setting. The remaining shootings occurred in open spaces, military or other government properties, residences, houses of worship, and health care facilities.
Washington received a “C” grade in last year’s state scorecard on gun control published jointly by the Brady Campaign and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The state ranked 13th out of 50 for enacting some gun control laws in the wake of the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook.
The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a reform group attempting to reduce violence, sponsored a policy known as Initiative 594 that will appear on the state's ballot this year during the Nov. 4 midterm elections. The policy would require criminal background checks on all firearms sales and transfers in Washington, including at gun shows and on the Internet. Under the current federal law, residents can purchase firearms at shows and online without first passing a background check.
The high school will remain closed during the weekend and throughout next week to respect the students and families affected by the tragedy, Berg said. Extra-curricular activities also were canceled for the weekend.
The high school football team's playoff game was canceled for Friday night. But the competitors offered to take second place out of respect for the community.