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15-year-old student shoots classmate at school


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By Caitlin Keating




MARTINSVILLE, Ind.-- A 15-year-old boy, suspended from his middle school, snuck back to the school Friday morning and shot a classmate, police said.

Parents and students said the shooting was about a girl both boys liked.

Earlier in the week, the alleged shooter Michael Phelps, a student at Martinsville West Middle School, was reportedly making threats on Facebook against the victim, Chance Jackson, 15. Phelps’ Facebook status Friday morning, just before the shooting, said, "Today is the day."

Jackson, reportedly shot in the stomach, was flown by a LifeLine helicopter to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis and is currently in critical yet stable condition.

Phelps was taken into custody and brought to the Morgan County Sheriff Department where he is currently being held for the shooting. The authorities would not comment on the charges.

Hundreds of parents gathered outside of the school, anxious to see their children and receive answers. Parents accused the principal Suzie Lipps and her administration of being aware of the Facebook threats but ignoring them.

Reports of Phelps’ threats were so wide spread that some students didn’t come to school Friday out of fear.

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The tension between the boys supposedly started at a school dance. Both Michael Phelps and Chance Jackson were students at the middle school, which has almost 600 students. The grade they were both in has not been released.

In the days that followed the dance they were seen fighting. WTHR 13 released a video, originally posted on YouTube, of Phelps and victim Jackson having a fist fight in a parking lot.

Wednesday, two days before the shooting, Phelps was sent home from school. Indiana State Police Sgt. Curt Durnil said Phelps had been suspended and expelled. Durnil would not comment on the reason for his expulsion.

Phelps was not supposed to be at school Friday. Just after 7 a.m., he showed up anyway.

Students described hearing a gun shot. Some said they heard two.

It happened just inside an entrance on the west side of the school.

News spread quickly when some of the students immediately took out their cell phones. They sent text messages and called family members.

Christina Drake dropped her son off and said she had this weird feeling that she didn’t want her son to go to school that day. She was only able to get as far as McDonald’s before her son Payton, 13, texted her at 7:30 a.m. saying someone had been shot.

Some reports say Jackson was shot in the stomach twice.

Phelps fled the scene and was found near South Elementary School, police said.

He was arrested and brought to The Morgan County Sheriff Department where he is currently in custody for the shooting.

With assistance from officers, metal detectors and dogs, the handgun was found in a nearby field.

***

As parents rushed to the scene, the school was on lock down. At noon, announcements from faculty and police officers were made.

Parents huddled outside of the school holding coffee as they patiently waited for their children to start exiting the building.

Students peered through the blinds looking out on the mass of people and police cars that waited for them outside. A helicopter hovered in the cloudy sky above hundreds of family members.

It was a scene of organized distress. Everyone knew the suspect was in custody but all they wanted was to see their children and bring them home.

The grass field in front of the school was filled with men in work uniforms, women dressed in pajamas and babies bundled up in their strollers.

Parents had been waiting for four hours when Principal Lipps joined the crowd and talked about what happened. She tried to get their attention without using a microphone.

“Speak louder. We can’t hear you,” a father shouted out.

The chop of the helicopter and peoples’ chatter muffled over her words.  

Lipps informed the parents and relatives that their children were doing extremely well and were being cooperative. She said it was reflected by the kinds of families they come from.

“This was a tragedy,” Lipps said. “Thank you for your patience, concern and support.”

Lipps then said she would like to take a moment of silence and pray.

Some kept their heads up. Others closed their eyes and put them down. One mother looked off in the distance.

A father rolled his eyes and said, “Oh Gosh.” Another father spoke out about the Facebook threats but his remarks were either ignored or not heard.

Some of the parents, talking amongst themselves, were commenting on some of the threats on Facebook they had seen with their own eyes.

Allegedly the night before the shooting Phelps had posted, "Don’t use your mind, use your nine."

A friend had reportedly asked Phelps on Facebook, "Yu coming to skool dawg," and Phelps responded, "Yea I’m here but not for long."

According to USA Today, a parent asked Lipps if it was true that a student had tried to warn administrators that the violence might occur. Lipps said the rumor was untrue.

Students whose parents were not at the scene were escorted from school onto school buses that took them home. They walked out with their backpacks on filled with textbooks that they never got to use that day.

The parents at the scene were then told they had to make a line along the side of the building and get out their IDs. They would be brought inside one by one and reunited with their child.

A sheriff assured the families that their children were safe.

A priest made his way down the line asking people who wanted to pray to join him.


***

Kylee Keith, 15, stood near the entrance to the school, outside of the long line to pick up students. She knew the victim, Chance Jackson, and said “He was like my little brother.” Keith said she just hopes that he is okay.

Little children, too old for strollers but too young for kindergarten, did jumping jacks on the field to stay warm. Old men stood off in the distance, leaning on cars or putting hands on other shoulders for support, smoking cigarettes in silence.

The line started to move which meant students were starting to be released to their relatives. A young girl walked out, hiding her red face in her mother’s shoulder. Tears ran down both of their faces.

Brandi Tatum, 14, walked out of the school and said a lot of people were crying. Brandi’s mother held onto her shoulder and said she was glad it wasn’t her daughter.

Mother Darlene Helms had been at the school since 7:30 a.m. with her husband David. Dressed in a coat almost down to her feet hiding the pajamas underneath, she said she used to have the alleged shooter Phelps in her day care program from age 2 to 5.

“He was a heathen back then,” Helms said. ”He was always in trouble.”

It started to snow as the line grew shorter to pick up the students. Local Martinsville police and sheriffs along with the Morgan County Critical Incident Response team stood in place, some with their hands on their guns, others asking parents if they had any questions.

Helms frantically walked out of the school after waiting in line for more than an hour and said “They’re idiots. They sent her home on the school bus. I have a 12-year-old at home alone.”

A man walked off with his daughter and said, “ That’s it. I’m homeschooling.”

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Indiana State Police Sgt. Curt Drunil speaks to press Friday outside Martinsville West Middle School. One student brought a gun and shot a peer, who was airlifted to Methodist Hospital for treatment. Rabi Abonour Buy Photos
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Family members wait to pick up children Friday outside of Martinsville West Middle School. Rabi Abonour Buy Photos
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Principal Suzie Lipps speaks to a crowd of concerned relatives Friday outside of Martinsville West Middle School. Rabi Abonour Buy Photos
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Principal Suzie Lipps speaks to a crowd of concerned relatives Friday outside of Martinsville West Middle School. Rabi Abonour Buy Photos

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