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Student Shot at Calif. High School, Suspect in Custody

TAFT, Calif. -- A student shot at Taft Union High School Thursday morning has been airlifted to Kern Medical Center, sheriff's officials have confirmed.

Another student is in custody and a shotgun has been recovered, Kern County Sheriff's Department spokesman Ray Pruitt said.

The incident began shortly after 9 a.m. in the west Kern school's physical sciences building, Pruitt said.

While the Taft Police Department has jurisdiction over the shooting, law enforcement from the sheriff's department, FBI and California Highway Patrol swarmed the school at 1 Wildcat Way to assist in room-to-room searches of the campus and evacuations.

Earlier Kern County Fire Capt. Eric Coughran said fire officials were called at 9:01 a.m. about two people with injuries. While the one person was taken to KMC, a second person suffered unspecified minor injuries and declined treatment, Coughran said.

A family friend of the student taken to KMC said the student is a boy and is a junior at the high school. The family friend did not know the boy's condition.

Parents were arriving at the school in the city of nearly 10,000 to pick up their children. However, it was unclear from which building or area parents were to pick up their children, and law enforcement officers were sorting that out with school officials. Masses of parents were heading to the football field to try to find their children.

As of 11 a.m., officials were calling for more chaplains to respond to the school. Some areas of the school were still to be evacuated.

At 11:45 a.m., officails said parents picking up their children would need to have identification ready.

Law enforcement officials said there would be a news conference at noon.

Felicity Reich, 13, a student at the nearby Lincoln Junior High School, was visibly shaken as she talked about what happened. She held the hand of her mother, Ellie Reich.

Felicity said the bell had just rung at her school when teachers began shouting for students to get inside buildings, and the principal came on the intercom to tell students to stay inside.

Ellie Reich said she was at work on Main Street and at first she and her co-workers thought there was a drill at the high school. But then they heard helicopters, and then they started hearing there had been a shooting.

"They were all trying to keep each other happy and not flip out," Felicity said of her fellow students' attempts to comfort one another.

Hundreds of parents, kids and family were clogging nearby streets, talking on cell phones, smoking and wiping away tears as they waited for their children.

Mother Dayna Hopper was at the football field shortly after 11 a.m. to pick up her two children, son Joseph Sorensen, 16, a junior, and daughter Cheryle Pryor, 15, a freshman. Her children called her from Cheryle's cell phone, both crying but reporting they were not hurt.

"I panicked. I wanted to puke and just get here," Dayna Hopper said.

Jesse Gama, 19, waited to pick up his brother Erwin Gama, a 15-year-old sophomore.

He heard from news reports and a text message from his brother that there had been a shooting.

At about 11:20 a.m., he said he'd been waiting for about two hours. Family members were told kids would be let out from the stadium in alphabetical order, he said, although that wasn't confirmed by school officials.

"He said he was fine, to not worry. To tell Mom that he was OK so she wouldn't get scared," Jesse Gama said his brother Erwin told him.

Taft City Councilman Dave Noerr rushed to the scene after hearing initial reports of the shooting. Standing right outside the science building at about 10:35 a.m., he told The Californian he was seeing personnel from the Sheriff's Department, SWAT teams, the FBI and the Taft Police Department plus ambulances and fire trucks.

"All the resources one can possibly imagine to respond to a horrible tragedy are here," he said.

Anxious parents were asking about their kids, he said. People were informing and consoling each other.

"This is a small community. We're one big family," Noerr said. "We're doing everything we can for each other."

When Noerr first heard the reports, he immediately called the police chief.

"I said, 'Is this really happening?'" he recalled.

"'Yes it is, I have to go,'" the chief responded.

Harry Starkey is general manager of West Kern Water District, which is next door to the school.

He said he was in a meeting with officials from the city and Taft College at about 9 a.m. when the officials abruptly left the meeting, saying there had been a shooting at the school.

Shortly afterward, Starkey said he saw two helicopters land at the school's football field.

The West Kern Water District is on lockdown as a precaution.

The American Red Cross- Kern Chapter is responding to Taft with a team that includes mental health and nurse professionals, as well as trained volunteer disaster responders.

Congressman Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, issued this statement Thursday morning: "I am deeply saddened and troubled by news of the shooting. Judy and I offer our prayers to the victims, their families and the entire Taft community."

Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, who represents Taft, released a statement. It reads in part: "My thoughts and prayers are with the students, faculty, families and first responders at Taft Union High School this morning. At this moment, their safety and well-being is paramount.

"Let me be absolutely clear. Violence directed at our children and teachers in schools is unacceptable."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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