The young suspect, whose name was withheld by officials because he is a minor, opened fire on Tuesday with a semi-automatic handgun his father had purchased four days earlier, killing three fellow Oxford High School students.
A teacher and seven other students were wounded, some critically, police said.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard told a news briefing hours after the rampage in Oxford, Michigan, about 40 miles (65 km) north of Detroit, that investigators lacked any immediate explanation for what might have precipitated “an unspeakable and unforgivable” act of violence.
“This touches us all personally and deeply, and will for a long time,” he said.
The suspect, disarmed and taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies minutes after the shooting began, has declined to speak with investigators after his parents retained a lawyer and denied authorities permission to interview their son, Bouchard said.
“The person who’s got the most insight on motive is not talking,” the sheriff told reporters.
Bouchard said he was unaware of any previous run-ins with law enforcement by the suspect, a high school sophomore, adding investigators had so far seen nothing to suggest a history of disciplinary problems or threats.
He said forensic technicians would likely work through the night collecting evidence from the crime scene, while detectives begin collecting video footage from security cameras mounted around the school and conducting interviews with witnesses and those acquainted with the suspect.
He said a search warrant was executed at the suspect’s home in Oxford and his phone was seized.
THREE DEAD, EIGHT WOUNDED
Bouchard credited swift action by his deputies for preventing greater loss of life, saying they arrived on the scene in minutes and moved straight toward the sound of gunshots.
Officers confronted the young assailant advancing down a hallway toward them with a loaded weapon, when he put his hands over his head and surrendered, Bouchard said.
The precise sequence of events during the violence remained unclear, but police believe the boy carried the weapon into the school in a backpack, the sheriff said.
“The only information I have is that he came out of a bathroom with a weapon, and I don’t know where he went first,” Bouchard said.
Prosecutors will decide what charges to bring and whether the suspect should be treated as an adult or juvenile, the sheriff said.
The boy, who was unharmed, was being detained in a special cell under suicide watch at a juvenile detention center, Oakland County Executive David Coulter said.
Three students lost their lives – a 16-year-old boy who died in a patrol car en route to a hospital, and two girls, aged 14 and 17, authorities said.
Of the seven other students struck by gunfire, three of them – a 15-year-old boy with a gunshot wound to the head and two girls with chest wounds, aged 14 and 17, were hospitalized in critical condition, Bouchard said. The younger girl was on a ventilator after surgery.
The four remaining teenage victims – three boys and a girl – were listed in serious or stable condition, he said. One teacher was treated for a shoulder wound and later discharged.
Undersheriff Michael McCabe said 15 to 20 rounds were fired during the rampage, which lasted no more than five minutes.
Bouchard said the boy was armed with a 9 millimeter semi-automatic handgun his father had purchased on Nov. 26, along with three 15-round magazines. Seven live rounds remained in the gun when the youth was arrested, the sheriff said.
The boy apparently “had been shooting” with the gun before Tuesday’s attack and had posted pictures of the weapon and a target he was using, according to the sheriff.
The latest in a long string of deadly U.S. school shootings will likely fuel debates about gun control and mental health care, with many states allowing easy access to firearms while mental health disorders frequently go untreated.
“This is a uniquely American problem that we need to address,” said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who rushed to the scene and appeared with McCabe before the media.
By Steve Gorman
(By Steve Gorman; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)