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Waukesha officer shoots Waukesha South student who wouldn't drop gun, officials say

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel logo Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 3 days ago Christopher Kuhagen and Bill Glauber, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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WAUKESHA - It was a little after 10 a.m. Monday when an announcement rang out at Waukesha South High School: "Lockdown. Lockdown. Lockdown."

This was no drill.

A Waukesha police officer inside the high school shot a 17-year-old student who pulled a gun in a classroom and refused to drop it, police said.

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The suspect — taken into custody — was the only person injured in the incident, police said.

It was a terrifying morning for students and their parents, many of whom raced to the school after receiving an email announcing the lockdown.

Teachers and staff also reacted quickly as students hunkered down.

"It was just really scary," said Alexis Grady, a senior.

Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack said at a news conference that at 10:07 a.m. a male student was reported to have brought a handgun to school and was in possession of it. The school resource officer responded and secured the classroom while getting other students to safety. 

Other Waukesha police officers and Waukesha County sheriff's deputies came to the scene and began "dialogue with the suspect in an attempt to deescalate the situation," Jack said.

"The suspect would not remove his hands from his pockets and continued to ignore officers' commands," Jack said. "The suspect removed his handgun from his waistband and pointed it at the officers. An officer was forced to discharge his firearm, striking the suspect."

a group of people that are talking on a cell phone: Waukesha South High School students find their waiting parents and friends and hug after they leave the building following shots fired inside the school, Monday, December 2, 2019.

Waukesha South High School students find their waiting parents and friends and hug after they leave the building following shots fired inside the school, Monday, December 2, 2019.
© Rick Wood / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Officers provided lifesaving medical attention to the student, Jack said, as "remaining students were evacuated from the classroom and the school was put on lockdown."

Jack said the officer who fired his gun is an 11-year veteran of the department. The Milwaukee area investigative team, with the City of Greenfield Police Department taking the lead, will conduct the investigation. 

Student accounts

Andrew Oresick, 16, a high school sophomore, told the Journal Sentinel that he was in the hallway outside of his Spanish class with his teacher and other students, hanging posters.

"These kids start running out from the classroom directly across from us, and one of them goes 'he's got a gun.'

"With the teacher being out there, I was glad she was out there, she just got us into the classroom right away, so we were in lockdown before they even announced it."

Oresick said about 20 minutes later when the lockdown was happening "we heard three gunshots, shook the whole room — it was one then two directly right after it." 

A student who said she was inside the school wrote in an email to the Journal Sentinel that students were put in a lockdown at 10 a.m.

"When that occurs we hide in the corners and turn off the lights and lock the doors. Minutes later we heard screaming and then heard two gunshots.

"They were right next to my classroom so we all went into shock. Even my teacher hid with us. We stayed down for like 20 minutes and the actual lockdown sound went out. Our police officer went on the speaker and said to stay on hold and we have been in the classroom ever since," the student wrote just after 11 a.m.

Sophomore Kilie Gall was in the library at the time when other students came in and reported there was someone with a gun in the hallway.. She said from the library, students could hear a "thud" and someone said it was a door, but they later learned it was gunfire. Gall said she thought there were three shots fired. 

'A superintendent's worst nightmare'

According to emergency radio traffic, the first Waukesha Fire Department units at the scene reported to dispatchers that the patient was conscious, alert and breathing. A fire commander at the scene told other arriving fire/EMS crews that the patient sustained "relatively minor wounds" and that no additional emergency responders were needed.  

Emergency radio traffic indicated a command post was set up inside the school. 

Police squad cars were blocking all the entrances at the high school and other streets around the school were shut down. Parents gathered outside the school, at Roberta and Tenny avenues, after word started to spread. 

"This is clearly a superintendent's worst nightmare," Waukesha Schools Superintendent Todd Gray said.

Gray said the school will resume Tuesday and additional resources will be available. 

Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly called it a "terrifying day." 

But he added that he is proud of how the school district, police department and fire department responded.

The incident came just days after deputy superintendent Joe Koch emailed district parents and staff Nov. 27, urging them to remind students "that threats, both direct and indirect, towards our students and schools will not be tolerated, even if intended as a ‘joke.' "

Koch also asked parents to check their students’ backpacks "to ensure that the items in the backpack are appropriate for school" and talk to their children about how they are behaving on social media.

The email didn’t say whether a specific threat prompted Koch’s reminder to parents, but cited "recent events in Southeastern Wisconsin regarding school threats."

Later Monday, Waukesha Police said Waukesha North High School was placed on lockdown after a report of a student possessing a firearm.

"The student was located in a residence in the City of Waukesha and was subsequently taken into custody," police said.

Reaction in Madison

Gov. Tony Evers said Monday the incident was "a grim reminder that this can happen anywhere, but I do not accept — nor should we accept — that this is an inevitable reality for our kids, our communities, our state, or our country.”

"My heart is with the students, educators, and staff of Waukesha South High School and the entire Waukesha community as they mourn and endure the trauma of today’s shooting," said Evers, a former school teacher and superintendent. "It’s gut-wrenching that our kids wondered whether this was a drill or it was real — our kids shouldn't have to fear for their life in our classrooms or at school, and no parent should have to send their kid off to school in the morning worrying about whether or not they’ll come home."

Evers earlier this year called on lawmakers to take up legislation aimed at preventing anyone considered threatening from obtaining a firearm, but the Republicans who control the Legislature refused citing concerns over due process.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said Monday’s incident was a reminder "that more action is needed to prevent gun violence and keep Wisconsin children safe."

Former Gov. Scott Walker successfully lobbied lawmakers to take up legislation that provided $100 million in grants to schools to beef up security. Evers wants to expand background checks on firearm sales and implement a new so-called red flag law.

The Waukesha School District received $1.2 million in grants from the state Department of Justice in 2018 to upgrade buildings and add training in an effort to improve school safety. DOJ spokeswoman Gillian Drummond said how much of that funding was spent on improving safety at Waukesha South High School was unavailable Monday.

"No student should have to go through a day like the one that students at Waukesha South went through today," Attorney General Josh Kaul said. "And no parent should have to go through a day like the one those students’ parents had today."

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, whose district includes the high school, said: "I commend the students, school personnel, and first responders at Waukesha South for their swift response to today’s incident. I will continue monitoring the situation as details are released and encourage anyone with information to contact the Waukesha Police Department."

- Jim Riccioli, Bill Glauber, Joe Taschler, Talis Shelbourne, Jesse Garza, Bob Dohr, Jordyn Noennig and Debi Eimer contributed to this report. 


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