OREM, Utah (AP) — As a group of boys at a Utah high school changed Tuesday morning into gym clothes for physical education class, a straight-A student pulled out a knife in the locker room and stabbed five of his classmates, sending the injured running for their lives and covered in blood, police said.
The 16-year-old suspect with no record of disciplinary trouble also stabbed himself in the neck and was cornered by school workers until a police officer assigned to Mountain View High School got to the locker room and subdued him with a Taser shot.
The five victims are all expected to survive, hospital officials said Tuesday afternoon. The two most seriously injured were in critical but stable condition, according to Utah Valley Hospital.
The suspect was treated and released following the attack that spread fear and panic among students who described a gruesome scene immediately after the stabbings.
Orem police posted a letter online they said was from the parents of the teen, apologizing. They said none of the victims had done anything to hurt their son and said the stabbings were not racially or ethnically motivated.
“We are at a loss to express how deeply sorry we are for the pain and injury caused,” the letter says.
Police said the knife used in the attack had a 3-inch blade but they did not identify the suspect who remained in custody by name because of his age.
School district spokeswoman Kimberly Bird said the suspect was a new sophomore student who was previously homeschooled. There were no indications he was having problems or being bullied, she said.
Investigators are talking to students who witnessed the attack and who knew the suspect as they try to determine a motive, said Gary Giles, the police chief in the city of Orem about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City where the attack happened.
“Is it a fight? Is it somebody who is upset with somebody? Is there more to it than that?” Giles said. “I don’t have those answers.”
In the mayhem immediately after the attack, Junior Karen Martinez said she saw three victims run from the locker room toward the school’s central office, one suffering from a head wound and another with a neck injury. One had blood running down the back of his shirt, she said.
“It was awful,” said Martinez, her eyes filled with tears. “It was so terrifying. I didn’t know any of the kids but still it was like an awful feeling to see all those kids getting hurt.”
Eduviges Sanchez had just dropped her son off at the school when she saw a student outside with a blood gushing from a large cut in the side of his neck.
Student Paxton Ransom was in the locker room when it happened. He saw blood on the floor and thought it was fake until he looked around the corner and saw someone on the ground who had been stabbed. He ran away and hid with other students in the school’s the weight room, texting his mother “There’s been a stabbing but I’m ok.”
She joined hundreds of parents who rushed to the school to find out if their children were safe, letting him go back to classes after giving him a hug.
The school, which has 1,300 students, was put on lockdown after the stabbings for about an hour until police determined there was no danger for students. Some parents took their children home and others allowed them to finish the school day.
The school has a large Latino population and is the most diverse among Alpine School District’s nine high schools, Bird said. Orem is a city of about 94,000 residents with a higher portion of Latinos than the state average.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s children attended the school years ago, and he tweeted that “It’s a community close to our hearts. My prayers are with the students and staff.”
The school plans to investigate if the suspect had had been acting in a way recently that should have been addressed by school officials prior to the attack, Bird said.
The school bans weapons, but doesn’t have metal detectors or other security procedures to check students each day, she said. It’s unlikely they’ll implement any of those now, either, because they don’t want to make the school feel like a prison, Bird said.
Whitehurst reported from Salt Lake City.