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Taber school attack leaves 1 dead, 1 hurt

Disturbing similarities to Colorado school shootings

TABER, Alta. (CP) -- Students at W.R. Myers high school were just settling down after lunch Wednesday when a 14-year-old boy walked in and shot two students, killing one, just a week after a school massacre in Colorado.

"At first everybody thought it was a joke because we didn't think it could happen in our school in such a small town," said Raeanne Kunz, one of the 400 students at W.R. Myers.

"When we found out it was real, everyone was pretty much hysterical. There was a lot of crying and scared kids."

Police confirmed the Canada online slots gunman shot two boys, both 17, before he was taken into custody by the school resource officer, who is also a member of the Taber Police Service.

The dead teenager was identified as Jason Lang. The other victim was in Lethbridge Regional Hospital after emergency surgery.

One student was threatened by the shooter but was let go.

"I met him downstairs," said Colby Cannady, 15, a Grade 9 student. "He pointed the gun at me from about one foot away, at my head, and then at my stomach and said, 'Get out of here."'

Cannady ran toward the school office only to find Lang pleading for help.

"Jason was lying in blood. He was on his hands and knees crawling and saying 'Help me.' There was blood all over him."

Several students called gym teacher Cheyno Finney a hero because he stopped the youth before he shot anyone else.

"The shooter was tackled straight away and the gun was taken out of his hand before anyone else was ... hurt," said student Jordan Bareman.

Police would not release any details, but talk of a copycat killing ran wild after some students told one reporter the shooter was a "real loser-type" who walked in with a blue trenchcoat and a sawed-off .22-calibre rifle.

The two students who terrorized a high school in Littleton, Colo., killing 12 pupils and one teacher, wore black trenchcoats. The two, who were described as outcasts by fellow students, then turned their guns on themselves.

Several other Myers students said the shooter was definitely not wearing a trenchcoat, but rather a knee-length winter jacket he always wore.

Fourteen-year-old Greg Tomcala, who said he ran for his life, said he couldn't say for sure what the shooter had on, although he thought it was a blue or black hip-length jacket.

Kunz said students dove for cover when they realized what was happening.

"We were all lying on the floor and sitting underneath our desks. Some kids had desks put up, for protection, I guess.

"We just sat in our classes and were scared."

Later, after evacuating single file much like in a fire drill, coatless students huddled together for comfort and warmth as a late spring storm dropped heavy, wet snow around them.

Classes were cancelled for the rest of the week. At least 15 counsellors were immediately made available.

The emotional aftermath of the first fatal Canadian high school shooting in 20 years produced conflicting reports over exactly what happened.

Bruce Bell said his schoolteacher wife told him classes were in session when the boy walked in with a rifle and threatened a teacher.

"The kid just turned around and walked out, heading for the front door," Bell said.

"There were two other kids there, two kids who were late. He just shot them and kept walking."

Tomcala said he saw the suspect talking at the end of a long hallway.

"I don't know if he was talking to himself or the two students. I couldn't make out what he was saying," Tomcala told The Lethbridge Herald.

"But he just pulled out a gun and shot them."

The suspect was said to be a Grade 9 student who had quit W.R. Myers and was being taught at home. It was not clear whether he knew his victims.

The identities of the accused and the survivor are protected under the Young Offenders Act.

No one expected anything similar to the Colorado shooting in small-town Alberta, said Kunz.

Taber is a farming community of about 8,000 famous for its sweet corn and sugar beets. It is about 300 kilometres southeast of Calgary.

Raegan Valgardson, another Myers student, said she came across the shooter and one victim lying bleeding on the ground.

"When I walked out of the classroom I saw his gun right there," she said.

"I asked the guy what he was doing. He told me to get lost," she said shakily.

She ran away looking for help.

There were also differing opinions on the accused's personality.

"He said he's been really distressed," said student Matt Anderson. "He didn't have very many friends."

Beau Harden told The Herald he knew both Lang and the suspect from earlier school days.

"He's a pyscho person," he said of the shooter. "He used to cut himself. He's like mean."

Tomcala, another former classmate of the shooter, said the youth "didn't talk a whole bunch, but he usually seemed happy. He has a good sense of humour."

Valgardson said the shooter was in her class last year.

"He wasn't very popular. Most kids were really rude to him. I always felt bad for him ... I think that's one of the reasons. He said people were really rude to him."

In Edmonton, Alberta's education minister was devastated by the shooting.

A sobbing Gary Mar called it "the worst day I've had since I became minister of education."

Mar said he was praying for the people of Taber.

"The school there is a very integral part of the community," he said. "This is going to have a profound impact on the people who live there."

The shooting was not the only school violence in Alberta on Wednesday. Two Calgary high school students, aged 16 and 17, were injured after they were attacked by someone with a machete after two school groups clashed.

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