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Patrick Springer, Published October 12 2012

Investigators trying to figure out why Fairmount freshman shot himself; student expected to recover

FAIRMOUNT, N.D. – Nothing seemed unusual when he arrived at school, dropped his guitar off and chatted with his teacher about the music lesson planned for later in the day.

But just minutes later, during Thursday’s first-class period, the freshman student shot himself in the side of the face.

The student, whose name and age were not released, never lost consciousness and is expected to recover, said Richland County Sheriff Larry Leshovsky.

The boy was taken by ambulance to St. Francis Healthcare Center in Breckenridge, Minn., and remained conscious for the 15-mile transport.

No condition report was available Thursday.

“He’s going to have a lot of counseling,” said Ron Stahlecker, superintendent of the Fairmount school, which has 112 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Administrators at Fairmount Public School said the self-inflicted gunshot might have been a botched attempt to kill himself. No other students were harmed.

“We’re in the very initial phases of this thing,” Leshovsky told reporters. “The investigation is ongoing.”

Investigators are trying to learn the boy’s reason for turning a gun on himself in a classroom, and how he got the weapon.

Stahlecker, who saw the boy when he arrived Thursday at school, seemingly undisturbed, described him as “a good kid and just going through some issues, I would assume.”

The superintendent added: “So many times the students keep things inside of them, and you just don’t know.”

The boy had recently broken up with his girlfriend, to whom he had passed a note before he walked to the front of the classroom, told the teacher, “I’m sorry,” and fired one shot with a small handgun, students said.

Two students who were in classrooms down the hall did not hear the gunshot, but heard screams and cries from shocked students who witnessed the shooting.

“We thought it was just kids monkeying around in the hall,” said Taylor Campbell, a junior at Fairmount.

Students were kept in their classrooms with the doors locked, he said. Initially the school went into lockdown as a precaution, and then students were let out early. Classes were expected to resume today.

High school students were taken to the school library, where they waited for parents to pick them up. Eight students – the ninth-grade class – were in the classroom where the shooting happened, and were visibly shaken.

“They were just pale like a ghost and screaming and crying and saying someone shot himself,” said Malique Burns, a sophomore.

“A lot of freak-out,” Campbell added, describing the shocked reaction of students to the shooting.

The boy who shot himself was described as quiet but not troubled, and not the subject of bullying, according to Campbell and Burns.

“He’s a smart kid,” Burns said. “He did very well in the classes I was in with him.”

Counseling is available for all students, and counselors from neighboring school districts will be brought in to help, Stahlecker said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522