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By Dan Gallagher, Associated Press writer
Published: Saturday, April 17 1999
Driver was told hidden gun was science project
NOTUS, Idaho — A teenager who fired two shots inside Notus Junior-Senior High School with a shotgun he wrapped in a blanket and carried from home on the school bus was described as mentally disturbed.
No one was seriously injured, but teachers barricaded themselves in a lounge and school administrators hurriedly evacuated students across an open field as the teen stalked the foyer. He blasted the floor outside the principal’s office and soon afterward blew a 3-inch hole in a steel gymnasium door, narrowly missing three students. Teachers saw him reloading the shotgun after firing the shots, and deputies later found three live shells in the gun.
“I was in a meeting in the elementary school and was told there had been shots fired in the high school,” Superintendent Bob Larson said. “I don’t possess the words to describe the feeling I had.”
The incident occurred about the time classes were to begin in the southwestern Idaho farming community of about 500 people 30 miles west of Boise. Notus Junior-Senior High School has about 180 students.
Larson identified the 16-year-old sophomore as Shawn Cooper, who lives with his grandparents and has attended Notus schools off and on for about five years. He was in custody on Friday.
Responding to the emergency call, Canyon County Sheriff George Nourse drew his sidearm, entered the school and saw the boy wielding a .12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun and a kitchen knife brought from home.
“I hollered at him, ‘Put the gun down! Put the gun down!’ ” Nourse said. “He stared at me. He never took his eyes off me. He was babbling incoherently.”
Eventually the boy dropped the weapons and a deputy grabbed him. Nourse said the boy was taken to West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell and placed in “mental hold.”
There was no indication later Friday what charges might be filed.
Nourse said Cooper had spent a month recently at State Hospital South in Blackfoot, had been seeing local mental health officials and was on medication.
There was no immediate indication why the student fired the shots. But Nourse said rumors had circulated Thursday that the boy had threatened other students and had a list of those he wanted to kill.
“I don’t think a lot of kids took him seriously,” the sheriff said.
Larson said no teachers had heard about any threats and there was no reason for any school employees to believe there might be trouble.
“Saying the bus driver knew a weapon was on the bus is totally wrong,” Larson said. “He was told it was a science project. There was no reason to expect this.
“I’ve known Shawn for several years,” Larson said. “As I saw it, he hadn’t been afforded the opportunities that others have when they come into this world. But he was a fine kid. You wanted to reach out and care for him, and the staff did.”
Student Body President Howard Pennington, 18, a senior, helped get other students out of the school after the first shot was fired into the floor outside the office.
A second shot, before all the students had gotten outside, blasted through the metal gym door, scattering lead pellets across the basketball court. Three male students had just moved away from the door when the gun went off.
“When you hear about this happening at schools around the nation, you think it can’t happen in Notus,” Pennington said. “Notus is a friendly school. We don’t even have locks on the lockers.”
Pennington’s little brother, Joey, had a welt on his shoulder that Nourse said was caused by ricocheting debris from the first shell.
Larson and school principal Gary Tipton quickly moved students away from the building to a bus. Larson said he returned afterward and found “four teachers had barricaded themselves into the lounge with a refrigerator and furniture. They were cowering in the corner.”
The incident came one year after a 14-year-old student brought two guns to Alternate Junior High School in Pocatello and held police at bay for six hours with other students still in the building. There was no bloodshed, but the boy later was expelled by district officials.
Also in April 1998, a 13-year-old student at Clearwater Valley Primary School in Kooskia pointed a handgun at the backs of two teachers and mouthed the words, “Bang, bang.” She later pleaded guilty to felony aggravated assault and misdemeanors of carrying a concealed weapon and carrying a gun on school property.
The Notus School Board has been developing a “crisis action plan” for just such an incident. And even though no one was injured or killed, Larson said he could not shake the feeling the district had let the students down.
“I talked to the high school kids. I apologized to them for what happened,” he said. “Our job is to provide a safe place for kids. Today we didn’t. I regret the loss of innocence every one suffered today.”
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Shawn Cooper (April 16, 1999): In Notus, Idaho, Cooper fired two shotgun rounds, narrowly missing his classmates and teachers. According to his stepfather (i.e. grandfather), he was taking an antidepressant. “‘A lot of things have crossed my mind,’ Frank Cooper said sadly, trying to explain why the quiet youngster he raised in his God-fearing home went berserk. Frank Cooper and the boy’s lawyer are now looking closely at the medication Shawn had been taking since January…Frank Cooper took his grandson to church and allowed him to enjoy boy things – baseball, sports cards, Christian rock music. Shawn even preached at a local church…After he was diagnosed with a condition where you fluctuate from deep depression to feelings of ecstasy, Shawn was given steady doses of anti-depressants…Frank Cooper thought he was helping his grandson by giving Shawn the drugs the doctor had prescribed. Now he’s wondering whether he made a mistake.” (Douglas Montero, “New York Post Commentary”)