SEATTLE (AP) — A popular teacher being hailed as a hero for tackling a 16-year-old shooter inside a Washington state high school said he did what any other U.S. educator would do: He ran toward the gunfire instead of away from it.
Brady Olson said three other staff members reacted the same way when a student fired two shots into the air in the school commons before classes began Monday morning. No one was injured at North Thurston High School in Lacey, about 60 miles southwest of Seattle, and the shooter is in custody.
“No one, including myself, can prepare for a situation like this, so I’m very thankful that we’re all OK. As always, students come first and today was no different,” Olson, an Advanced Placement government and civics teacher, said in a statement.
Anthony Rybalkin, 16, said he and a group of friends were hanging out near the lunch tables when he heard a loud boom. He looked up and saw a classmate from his sixth-period class walking down the stairs from the gym into the common area with a cigarette in his mouth and a gun in his hand.
“We thought it was fake for a second. Then he shot off another round,” said Rybalkin, who said he was about 20 feet away from the shooter. “Everyone just started running out the back door.”
Rybalkin tripped and fell as he ran away and turned his head to see if the shooter was coming his way. That’s when he saw Olson come up behind the shooter and tackle him. Two other teachers or administrators jumped on the teen and held him down, Rybalkin said in a phone interview.
“When Mr. Olson tackled him, he still had it (the gun) in his hand. I don’t know if one of the other teachers took it or not,” Rybalkin said.
He said the shooter was a new student and had joined his class within the past week or so.
“He said he has military parents. We don’t know if that’s true or not,” Rybalkin said.
School district spokeswoman Courtney Schrieve confirmed that the shooter was enrolled at the school, but she didn’t know how long he had been a student.
Commander Jim Mack with the Lacey Police Department said the shooter had a fully loaded revolver, minus the two fired shots, when he was arrested. Another gun was found at his home, and investigators said both weapons were legally owned by the parents.
The student is being held at the Thurston County Juvenile Detention Center for investigation of a number of weapons charges. He spoke with detectives and indicated he had no intention of hurting anyone, Mack said.
Schrieve said the school was swept for a bomb as a precaution, and she was not sure if students would return Tuesday.
“The dangerous thing is it was right before school starts. The kids would have all been in the commons,” Schrieve said.
The district had just been practicing active shooter drills, and “it obviously paid off,” she said, touting Olson as a good person.
“He’s a very large guy, he’s a very popular teacher, and I can see him doing that,” Schrieve said.
Olson said he was happy everyone was safe and praised school staff and police. “I’m incredibly proud to be a member of the bigger community of educators who teach and take care of our kids every day,” he said.
Another student who witnessed the shooting but did not see how the gunman was stopped was not surprised to hear Olson took him down.
“If anyone in the school were to do something like he did, I would think it would be him,” said Teia Patan, 17. “He’s one of those people who watch over kids.”
Patan, a senior in one of Olson’s civics classes, was swept into a classroom and then escorted out of the building after the shooting. He described his high school as nice and calm, with no bullying.
The shooting comes just months after another one in Washington state left five students dead, including the gunman. In October, Jaylen Fryberg, 15, shot the students and then himself after inviting them to lunch in the cafeteria at Marysville-Pilchuck High School north of Seattle.