MARYSVILLE — A burst of gunfire at Marysville Pilchuck High School on Friday left two students dead, four more injured and a grieving community asking, “Why?”
The shooter, a freshman athlete, took his own life after opening fire during the day’s first lunch period, Marysville police said.
Also killed was a girl who has not yet been publicly identified. Four other victims, all students, remain hospitalized: three in critical and one in serious condition.
The shooter has been identified as football player and Tulalip tribal member Jaylen Fryberg. He is the son of Wendy Fryberg, a former Marysville School Board member.
Friends and family said two of the shooting victims are Nate Hatch and Andrew Fryberg, Jaylen’s cousins. All three freshmen grew up together and went to the homecoming dance as a group earlier this month after Jaylen was voted freshman homecoming king.
“They were like three brothers,” said Nate’s grandfather, Don Hatch, a former Marysville School Board and Tulalip Tribal Board member. “They were inseparable. They did everything together. It doesn’t seem real.”
Hatch said he couldn’t begin to speculate on a motive.
“Only God knows,” he said. “My feeling is we may never know, not until we get to the other side.”
Hatch went to his grandson’s bedside at Harborview, where he said Nate’s condition was improving. Hatch spent time with Andrew Fryberg’s family as well.
The families prayed together, he said.
Hatch also hopes to visit with Jaylen Fryberg’s family as well and pray with them. The boy recently brought his grandmother a deer he had shot. Feeding elders wild game is an act of great cultural significance.
“God can help us all get through this,” he said.
The high school, which has 1,212 students, will be closed next week.
The shooting was reported about 10:30 a.m. The school resource officer was on scene at the time and called for backup, Marysville police Cmdr. Robb Lamoureux said.
Witnesses said there was a burst of gunfire during first lunch, a pause, then a final shot.
Marysville Police Chief Rick Smith would not talk about the shooter, including any information about his identity or possible motive. Nor would he discuss rumors that a school staffer tried to intervene.
Investigators also declined to talk about the weapon used other than to say that it had been legally acquired.
Speaking to the community, Smith said, “We care about you. We love you. We’re going to be there for you.”
Providence Regional Medical Center Everett initially received all of the patients, but Andrew, 15, and Nate, 14, were transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Two girls and Andrew had serious head wounds and underwent surgery at Providence. The girls were in critical condition in the intensive care unit on Friday evening.
Nate had a less-severe jaw injury but still was in serious condition, officials said.
George Swaney, who taught in the Marysville School District for more than 30 years, had Andrew Fryberg in one of his classes three years ago at Totem Middle School in Marysville.
“Andrew was just a real sweet kid,” Swaney said. “He is one of those kids you can joke around with and he always had a smile on his face.”
Approximately 20 doctors converged at Providence to treat the victims. The team included two heart surgeons, two neurosurgeons, a chest surgeon, two trauma surgeons, the vascular surgeon and 12 emergency room physicians. Four trauma rooms were used to aid the victims.
“We had dreaded this day in our community, but we were prepared to handle these kids when they came,” said Dr. Joanne Roberts, the chief medical officer at Providence.
Police, who had trained at Marysville Pilchuck before, first swept the campus looking for threats before conducting a separate, slower and more thorough search to rule out the possibility of any additional shooters. Over their emergency radios they read names of those found safe.
The Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team — a cadre of the best homicide detectives drawn from police departments throughout the county — is conducting the witness interviews, Lamoreaux said.
They are being joined by investigators from the Washington State Patrol, FBI and other federal agents. Work at the scene was expected to continue all night, Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said.
Christine Wagner, a sophomore who was in the cafeteria, said she heard what sounded like seven to 10 shots, then a pause, then a final gunshot. “Everyone jumped under the tables,” she said. When the shooting stopped, people just ran.
Wagner rushed from the cafeteria and climbed one of the school’s fences, cutting one of her hands.
She said one of her friends saw people hit by bullets. The gunman was described as wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt.
In the church parking lot where families were being reunited, a tearful Tami Van Dalen gave her daughter, Morgan, a long embrace. Morgan and her best friend, Madison McKee, were sharing a chicken burger three tables away from the shooting.
“We heard like a pop,” Morgan said. “Some people thought it was a firecracker. I thought it was a plastic baggie. We all ran out. We ran to a classroom.”
She told a teacher that it was a shooting, not a drill.
“People were falling over each other to get out, and you could hear glass breaking,” she said. “It was so scary. We looked and we just booked it.”
For the Langstraat family, Friday’s shooting was just one more traumatic event. Last week, their house in Marysville was hit by five bullets when a Granite Falls man went on a shooting rampage that spanned three cities.
Michelle Langstraat, a mental-health therapist, was in a session with a client when her elder son, Wyatt, 17, called her about the shooting. Wyatt attends classes at Marysville Pilchuck and Everett Community College, and was in Everett at the time.
Wyatt’s brother, Noah, 15, was in the MPHS cafeteria drinking Gatorade when the shooting began. In the commotion he left behind his cellphone and was unable to contact his mother.
It was an agonizing hour of waiting.
“I heard two loud shots and then a slight pause, and then five or six others,” Noah said. “I got on the ground. I knew I had to stay on the ground.”
Noah and his friends pressed close to each other and waited until they felt it was safe to leave the cafeteria.
Sophomore Skylar van der Putten was in another cafeteria on the high school campus when the shooting occurred. He said he is not afraid to return to school when it reopens.
“I have no idea why he did it,” he said. “It is one kid acting on one weird emotion. He shouldn’t have had access to the gun.”
Michael Dufour, 17, a senior, was eating a ham sandwich and painting a bridge in the back room of an art class. He initially thought the shooting was just a drill.
Like many students, Dufour said the tragedy should not reflect on his school.
“Our school is usually really safe. It is just one of those freak things that happen,” he said. “I just wish it didn’t happen here.”
For his mother, Raquel Dufour, news of the shooting meant leaving work in Lynnwood to search for her son.
“The whole time I’m thinking, ‘Just let me get to my child,’” she said. “As a parent, you just have to see them for yourself. You just have to hold them. I don’t ever want to got through this again.”
Another parent, Jery Holston, initially waited outside the Marysville fire station just down the street from the high school. He was on the phone with his daughter, a senior, and son, a freshman.
His son called him and said he had taken cover behind a dirt pile near the football stadium.
“My heart dropped in my stomach,” Holston said.
His daughter called him to report that she, too, was OK.
“I’m right up the road here,” he told her.
Both asked him to come pick them up.
Sophomore Jordan Reynolds and her mother, Kim, comforted each other Friday afternoon at the Living Room Coffee House on State Avenue. Kim and her husband Mike are pastors at Hillside church. It meets at the coffee house, which they own.
Jordan was in the cafeteria when she heard a pop and saw people running. She stayed with others who hid under the tables. Someone pulled the fire alarm.
Then a police officer ran in and told them to leave.
“As I got up, I could see everything,” she said. “It was horrible. I’ll never forget that. After I’d seen everything, I just started running.”
Jordan found a classroom without windows to hide in. About 30 kids were crammed inside, she said. Many of them knew the shooter and the victims.
Time blurred, but after awhile, a police officer knocked on the door. He led them off campus through a hole in a fence.
As Jordan talked, her mother started to cry. The two paused to hug.
“I’m so sorry, baby girl.”
“It’s OK, Mom, it’s not your fault.”
All students were taken to Shoultes Christian Assembly, at 5202 116th St. N.E. The church is about a half mile away from the high school, at 5611 108th St. NE.
Yellow school buses pulled up to where a crowd of parents waited for children to unload. After only a short hug, students walked under police tape and into the church to be officially accounted for before being released to their parents.
The church parking lot was full of cars, people, and the sounds of sobbing. The American Red Cross also was on scene offering assistance.
It will take a long time for the community to heal, Mayor Jon Nehring said
“All of us are coming together, and our thoughts and prayers are with everybody,” he said. “Really right now the priority is taking care of the families.”
Tulalip Tribal Chairman Herman Williams read a statement Friday.
He asked for people to respect the privacy of families now struggling with grief.
“Sadly, we are now experiencing what has become a national trend, which we, as a society, must address,” he said. “These are our children. They are suffering, and their lives will be forever changed. The fact that tribal members were involved makes it extremely hard to respond to any inquiries until we are aware of all the circumstances.”
Schools throughout the county were working on providing counselors and police resources both to their own campuses and offering to send more folks to Marysville to help. There are 12,000 students in the Marysville district. Marysville is the second largest city in the county, after Everett.
The county medical examiner’s office, which is expected to make scientific determinations about the two deaths, posted on its website Friday that it is not planning to release any information until late Saturday afternoon at the earliest.
This is not the first time that violence has erupted in a Snohomish County school.
Friday was the third anniversary of an attack by a troubled 15-year-old student who stabbed two Snohomish High School classmates. Prior to the Oct. 24, 2011, attack, the girl had made threats to other students and was treated for mental illness.
April Lutz was stabbed more than a dozen times and nearly died from a knife wound to her chest. Her friend Bekah Staudacher received stab wounds to her arm and back trying to fend off the attack.
Earlier this year, a jury found that the high school failed to protect the girls and ordered it to pay $1.3 million to the victims.
The attacker is serving a 13-year sentence.
In Marysville on Friday, there was deep disbelief.
Hailee Simenson, a junior cheerleader, was in Spanish class when a classmate received a text about the cafeteria shooting. She said she was shocked to learn the shooter’s identity.
“He just never seemed like someone who could do something like that,” she said. “He was a real nice guy. It caught me by surprise and I think it caught a lot of people by surprise.”
Her father, Dan Simenson, said he is thankful for technology. He quickly received texts from Hailee and her older brother, Spencer, confirming they weren’t hurt.
He tempered his immediate relief with long-term concern.
“It is going to be tough on these kids,” he said. “I think that’s the toughest part for me. They will have to live with it forever.”
Reporters Dan Catchpole, Diana Hefley, Julie Muhlstein and Aaron Swaney contributed to this story.