CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Armed with a shotgun, a student entered Arapahoe High School and opened fire, hitting at least one other student before turning the weapon on himself, officials said Friday.
One student was injured when he confronted the gunman, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said at a televised news conference. That student was reported in critical condition in surgery at Littleton Adventist Hospital.
Authorities rushed to secure the building and found a second injured student, but it was unclear if that was the result of the shooting, Robinson said.
The latest attack comes as the nation prepares to commemorate the first anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children were killed by a lone gunman, Adam Lanza. Six adult educators also died in that shooting before Lanza committed suicide.
Centennial is roughly 15 miles south of downtown Denver and less than 10 miles east of Columbine High School in Littleton, where two teenage shooters killed 12 classmates and a teacher, then killed themselves in 1999.
The incident began about 12:30 p.m. at the school, and authorities, mindful of recent mass shootings, including one at a movie theater in nearby Aurora, Colo., responded in force. SWAT teams swarmed the school and bomb squads responded.
Blaise Potvien, 14, a freshman, said he was in his fifth period class -- U.S. history -- when he heard three to four gunshots in the hallway.
“It was the loudest thing I ever heard,” Blaise said as he gathered with other students at the nearby Shepherd of the Hills Church. Parents rushed there to greet students who left the school in an orderly march, arms raised.
Seconds after the booming sounds, Blaise said, counselors and staff members were running down the hallway ordering everyone to close the classroom doors.
He said they turned out the lights in his classroom and hid in a far corner. Students were crying and screaming.
He said he texted his mother: “I love you mom and dad. Thank you for a wonderful life.”
Teresa Potvien, his mother, said she was Christmas shopping when she got that text. “I almost threw up,” she said.
She said she jumped in her car and tried to make her way to the school but traffic was snarled. Police cars and fire trucks clogged the road while helicopters filled the sky.
While many students were evacuated from the school, Blaise and other students who were close to where the shootings had taken place stayed hidden until a police tactical team came in and told them it was safe to leave.
John Spiegel, an 18-year-old senior, said he was in his psychology class on the north side of the high school building when he heard a popping sound.
The sound brought the class to a halt, he said, and everyone began looking around, trying to identify it. Seconds later, there were three more rapid shots.
“It was clear as day. It sounded right outside the door,” Spiegel said.
At the same time, he said, he heard what sounded like a student screaming: “We need help!” Students in his classroom ran to the front of the room, turned off the light, and huddled together.
“We were just clumped together on the floor. It felt unreal,” Spiegel said.
He said some students were calm, while others were panicking and crying. Some were praying.
Students went into “standard lockdown procedure,” the subject of repeated drills, he said.
Spiegel’s father, John Spiegel Sr., heard a bulletin about the shooting on the news. “My stomach dropped,” he said.
By 3 p.m., school buses were slowly pulling up to the church and parents waiting in the cold craned their necks, jostling to catch a glimpse of those emerging. Then came screams of relief, tears and hugs.
Many parents gave up their coats and were leading their children to cars, with both parents and children weeping.
Even though he is now safe, Spiegel said, “I’m still scared.”
His father cast a worried eye at his son. “Anything he needs, I’ll be there for him. I just want to hold him,” he said.
Teresa Potvien walked with her son from the church, clutching him as her eyes filled with tears. She said she was pregnant with Blaise, her only son, when the Columbine shooting took place.
“Something is wrong with this world,” she said.
That sentiment was echoed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“This is an unspeakable horror and something no child, no family should have to endure,” he said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Arapahoe High School community and those affected by this senseless act of violence.”
Officials were still looking for a motive, but at his second news conference, Sheriff Robinson said the gunman had entered the building looking for a specific teacher, who was not identified. Why the shooter was looking for that teacher is still being investigated, he said.
Robinson said the teacher left the building, adding that it was the right tactic to remove a target from the scene.
At this point, authorities believe the shooter acted alone.
[For the record, 4:08 p.m. PST Dec. 13: In an earlier version of this post, Blaise Potvien's last name was misspelled as Potin and his mother Teresa Potvien's last name was misspelled as Potvin.]