(Mark Wilson Photo)
Parents stood outside the glass doors of the Roswell Mall Tuesday morning, huddled together as children’s names were called out one by one. Berrendo Middle School students appeared in the doorway searching the desperate faces for a loved one.
Mike and Katrina Lamb were horrified when they heard about the shooting. Mike Lamb left work and together they drove to the mall to find their child, Rocky Lamb, a seventh-grader.
“We were finally able to get a hold of him on the phone and found out he was OK,” Mike Lamb said. “He just thought it was a drill. You see it on the news, but you never think.”
Parents and children cried or held each other as they were reunited after the terrifying ordeal that started after 7:30 a.m. Students were bused to the mall to meet family after 10 a.m. Many students had witnessed the shooting.
Brett Endecott, eighth-grader, was inside the gym waiting for school to start when he heard gun fire.
“There were at least five gun shots. I saw a boy,” Endecott said. “He got shot in the face or something.”
The gun was so big, Endecott said he could see the force of the gunfire push the shooter off his feet.
“It pushed him back a few times while he shot it. It was inside the gym. We were just sitting there,” Endecott said.
Berrendo Middle School staff had gathered the school’s 600 students inside the gym Tuesday morning because of the cold, blustery weather. Officials say a 12-year-old seventh-grader concealed a 20-gauge shotgun, entered the gym and began firing.
Two students, a 12-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, were shot.
Social studies teacher John Masterson, who Gov. Susana Martinez hailed a hero Tuesday night, turned to the boy as he pointed the gun at the teacher, and talked him into putting the weapon down. The boy placed the gun on the floor and held up his hands, officials confirmed.
The two students shot were taken by ambulance to Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, where they were stabilized and then transported to the University Medical Center in Lubbock. By Tuesday evening, the girl was out of surgery and in stable condition after suffering injuries to her shoulder. The boy had entered a second surgery and remained in critical condition.
Tyler Haws, a seventh-grader, said he saw his classmate with the gun run into the gym and start shooting. Haws said he never really talked to the boy, but he knew him.
“I first thought it was a drill,” Haws said. “He was actually a nice kid. I didn’t think he would ever do that.”
Darla Kolker, a parent of a former Berrendo Middle School student, came to the mall to offer support.
“My kids were worried about their friends,” Kolker said. “I just felt so sorry for the kids today. The kids are searching and trying to find their place. I just am going to see if there is any way I could help them.”
Later that day, an estimated 1,500 members of the community came together to show support at a prayer vigil held at the Roswell Civic Center.
“It’s bringing the community together,” said Superintendent Tom Burris.
The harrowing experience was an isolated incident, he said. Staff was trained in active shooter scenarios and followed procedures properly. The incident lasted only 10 seconds, but it has left the staff in shock, Burris said.
“When the adrenaline wears off, you just drop,” Burris said.
The district will close the school today but will offer counseling services to all students and staff beginning immediately. Parents are encouraged to call the school or the district for information.
Burris said he expects Thursday to be a difficult day for many who return to the middle school.
“It’s going to be an emotional and very charged day,” Burris said. “It will be like stepping on ice. You don’t know how thick it is.”
Resuming the regular school routine might be the best way for many of the students to heal, he said.
There were more than 100 eyewitnesses. With a lot of those kids, getting them back to normalcy will be a really good thing,” Burris said.
Some sports games were rescheduled. A school board meeting and an administration meeting was cancelled as a result of the incident.
Burris said when he first received word about the shooting he felt panic and drove directly to the school on the northern end of town. By the time he arrived, some 75 parents were already in the parking lot, having received text messages from their children.
“You never think it will happen to you,” Burris said. “So it has. This is the worst situation for a superintendent to be in. This is an isolated situation. We have no clue as to exactly why it happened. We are still full of questions.”
Gov. Susana Martinez prayed for the children, the teachers and for social studies teacher John Masterson, whom she hailed as a hero.
“In God’s name, pray for all those children that were in that gym today, and the teachers that were brave and that jumped into action,” Martinez said. “The entire county is praying for you today.”
Martinez said the state would make every resource available to local law enforcement and the school district. The state has Children, Youth and Families Department staff in Roswell who are available for any counseling that children, parents or staff may need, she said.
“They are available for any counseling day or night,” Martinez said. “I am asking that all New Mexicans please keep these two children in your prayers. We have a 12-year-old and 13-year-old who were shot while simply sitting in the gym waiting to go to class, and one of them is in surgery. Please don’t forget that this community is a strong community they will pull together.”
Mayor Del Jurney said the city was prepared to help the school district in any way.
“We are a strong community. We were saddened this morning when we discovered the shooting of two students. We’re saddened for their injuries. We’re saddened for the hurt that it has brought to the community of Roswell,” Jurney said.
City Councilor Savino Sanchez, also an associate pastor for Church on the Move, helped welcome attendees to the prayer vigil.
“I feel for the families and everything that happened on both sides,” Sanchez said. “I’m hoping that we all come together as a community and start helping our children. We’re the example.”
The crowd bowed their heads, clasped their hands and prayed. Some held their arms in the air at times while music played. Many attendees were community members who came out in support of the children.
Teresa and Curtis Skipper said the shooting touched home.
“We want to support the community and pray for them,” said Curtis Skipper. “We just want to support everybody in Roswell. It’s sad but what we can do is try to take care of ourselves and love one another and respect one another best we can. Even if it’s not our own kids.”
Mona Tellez’s seventh-grade daughter, Mikaela Moreno, sat a few rows in front of her. She arrived at school just as the first few shots rang out.
“It was horrifying, you can’t imagine,” Tellez said. “When I went to the school and it was circled by cops and you can’t do anything. It’s not supposed to happen in Roswell.”
Tellez brought her daughter to the prayer vigil to help her heal.
“Berrendo Middle School is a close family,” Tellez said. “We’re just here for one another and for my daughter. This is not something you ever want your kids to go through. I want her to be OK. It’s awesome they did this tonight. It really shows how our community has rallied behind us.”
Her daughter, Moreno, said she was still feeling lost and didn’t know what to believe.
“It’s making me feel more happier today than when I walked into the school and found out kids were being shot,” Moreno said. “This will help. It will give me back the peace that I lost today and it will help me heal.”
City Councilor Jason Perry said he hoped the community would overcome the tragedy.
“When something like this happens, the community becomes one heart that is broken. By the grace of God, we will overcome it,” Perry said.