Shooter was crying out for help, friends say
Peers say Chad Escobedo had grown more troubled over past months, even discussing plans to shoot his high school
Chad Escobedo's eighth-grade school picture shows a brown-eyed boy with a gentle smile.
Police say that boy, now a 15-year-old freshman at Springwater Trail High School, trained those eyes on the scope of a bolt action hunting rifle, aimed it at his school and fired two rounds from a field about 150 yards away on Tuesday, April 10.
Court records portray a boy so unhappy at home and school that he opened fire on a teacher who called his parents to report problems at school.
But Escobedo shot at the wrong class.
The sniper-style attack left 10 students injured. One girl required surgery on her neck, with another girl needing surgery on her wrist, to remove shards of glass and shrapnel.
If the teachers in those classes had been seated at their desks, both would have been hit, students and district officials say.
Instead, one round hit a VCR in front of a teacher's desk. A second round hit a cabinet in the back of class - a class where the teacher luckily requires students to sit up front.
'Seeing the trajectory, seeing the hole in the widow,' said Ken Noah, Superintendent of the Gresham-Barlow School District. 'When you see that, when you see where the kids were and knowing that a teacher walks around the room … We're so fortunate. While this was a tragedy, I can't tell how much worse this could have been, in a matter of inches.'
Equally chilling, Escobedo told friends just before the attack that he planned to shoot at the school. He even showed some of them a gold cartridge, the same kind he later allegedly fired at the classrooms.
The students thought he was joking.
None of them told an adult.
Escobedo is being held on $500,000 bail at Multnomah County's juvenile detention center on two charges of attempted aggravated murder. 'They're adult crimes,' Deputy District Attorney Chris Mascal said. ' … We can't try these in juvenile (court) even if you wanted to.'
When police arrived following the 2:15 p.m. shooting, officers noted a shattered window with glass shards strewn all over room 212. A 1-inch hole gaped in the thick, double-pane aluminum window.
The teacher told officers that two students suffered wounds serious enough for them to be hospitalized. Flying glass fragments cut several others. Police encountered a similar scene in room 201.
The school went into lockdown. At about 2:45 p.m. Steven Mott called Gresham police to report that his stepson, Escobedo, was the shooter. Detectives interviewed the boy, who according to a court affidavit, told them he recently watched a television documentary about the 1999 Columbine shooting in which two teenage students committed suicide after killing 12 students and a teacher, in addition to wounding 24 others.
On Saturday, April 7, Escobedo got the idea to fire a gun at his school.
Escobedo told detectives he was mad at two teachers - one who left messages for his parents notifying them he wasn't doing well in school and another he didn't like because she was mean to students.
He also had been upset at his mother, Deborah Mott, because she wouldn't let him live with his biological father in Eastern Oregon.
On the day of the shooting, school started late at 11:25 a.m. Escobedo left his home in the 1600 block of Southeast Ninth Street carrying a case containing his stepfather's Winchester .270-caliber bolt-action rifle and three boxes of cartridges. He hid the case under tall grass in a field southwest of the school and walked into the building.
After lunch, instead of going to class, he returned to the hidden gun. Escobedo chambered a round and fired at what he though was the classroom of the teacher who called his parents. Escobedo removed the empty casing, loaded a second round, aimed at a window to the left of the one he just shot and fired again.
He thought it was the same class he'd just fired at. It wasn't.
And neither class was that of the teacher he reportedly wanted to hit.
After the shooting, Escobedo called his mother on a cellular phone, told her what he'd done and walked the half mile home.
Some students at Springwater Trail High School knew exactly who the shooter was when it happened. After all, he warned them.
On the morning of the shooting, freshman Sharon Ralonde, 15, invited Escobedo to her birthday party.
'I can't,' he said. When she asked why, he reportedly said, 'I will probably be in juvie.'
Although he didn't specify why, the boy reportedly pulled something gold out of his pocket.
'Chad, is that a bullet?' she asked. He didn't answer.
Ralonde didn't think he would harm anyone.
'That didn't even cross my mind. He never seemed like he was angry at anybody,' she said. The boy was funny, eager to make people laugh and was always laughing himself, friends said.
Later, she heard a loud boom and a friend told her someone shot a hole in a classroom window.
'In that moment, I knew. I just knew,' Ralonde said.
But she still doesn't think he was trying to hurt anyone. She considers the shooting a cry for help.
freshman Justina Rice, 15, sees the shooting as both a cry for help and an attempt to harm others.
She's known Escobedo since sixth grade at Dexter McCarty Middle School. They were close friends, until she became unnerved by his changing behavior.
'To tell you the truth, it really didn't surprise me that he'd do something like this,' Rice said.
When they met, he was shy and quiet, but opened up once he became comfortable with her. They bonded over video games and scary movies like 'The Hills Have Eyes.'
But last year in eighth grade, Escobedo asked her an odd question. 'Do you ever imagine shooting something?'
She said no.
'I think about it sometimes,' he replied.
Escobedo started talking about such things more and more often. She became so uncomfortable with the recurring topic of conversation that they had a friendship-ending fight. Sure, she plays paintball, but she can't imagine firing a real gun at anything or anyone, Rice said.
Kaytie Cornett, a 16-year-old junior, said Escobedo was a 'really sweet kid' who enjoyed playing soccer, hunting and fishing. She met him last fall when she became his mentor in a yearlong freshman-orientation process.
But few months ago, she noticed he seemed less outgoing.
'He was miserable,' she said. Eventually, he confided in her that he was unhappy at home and wanted to move in with his father. 'I just might bring a gun to school and stand 100 yards off campus and start shooting,' he remarked.
She didn't take him seriously.
'He was laughing about it,' Cornett said, adding that she jokingly told him that if he shot her she would hurt him. 'Oh, I'd never hurt you,' he replied.
Ironically, during the shooting she was in a classroom next to one that was shot. Also, her next class was in the other shot-at classroom.
Just before lunch ended on Tuesday, Escobedo showed her a cartridge.
'What are you gonna do with that?' she asked, figuring without a gun he couldn't do much.
'Oh nothing,' he replied.
Again, she didn't think anything of it. He had no gun.
'What are you going to use, a slingshot?' she recalled thinking. 'I mean, who's really going to think that. You don't really take that kind of thing seriously like, 'I'm gonna shoot the school today.' That's kind of twisted.'
Besides, Escobedo was too nice to do such a thing.
'But then again, you always hear, 'He was such a nice guy,' when things like this happen,' Cornett added.
Looking back, she knows Escobedo was crying out for help.
'He just went about it in a destructive manner. He didn't know how to get the help he needed.'
Noah, district superintendent, said this week's shooting differs from other high-profile school shootings.
'This doesn't appear to be a story like those that have been told in other school shooting episodes … where there were very visible signs of some troubled activity and behavior.'
He also knows of no reports of behavioral or serious academic issues.
As for the motive, Noah is struggling to understand how someone could take a rifle to school and plan a shooting because they're mad at a teacher who called his parents.
'The gap there is enormous,' he said.
Noah also emphasized the importance of 'breaking the culture of silence between students and adults,' which prevented Springwater Trail students from coming forward with such alarming information.
As uncomfortable as a student may be with a peer's statements, that student may be more uncomfortable relaying them to an adult, he said.
'But it's important to talk to someone who can do something about it,' Noah added.
Capt. Tim Gerkman, with the Gresham Police Department, said the sniper-style attack isn't as common as attacks from within a school. 'There are inherent risks to both,' Gerkman said.
Although a shooter inside has closer access to victims, a sniper can change positions and more easily avoid detection while continuing to attack evacuating victims.
He's amazed, and frankly a bit angry, that none of the students told an adult that the boy spoke of a pending attack and went as far as showing them cartridges.
'In this day and age, there are too many school shootings for kids not to take these threats seriously,' Gerkman said. 'They had an obligation to act.'