Confusion, sorrow follow alert
Students scramble for safety after shooting
By Patrick Howe
COLD SPRING, Minn. -- For many students at Rocori High School, it was their favorite time of day: lunch.
Matt Toren, Amanda Theel and dozens of others were just sitting down to eat when Principal Doug Standke's voice came over the intercom with two words: "Code Red."
It was just after 11:30 a.m.
"I didn't really know what that meant," Theel said.
Teachers had gone through emergency training earlier in the year but the 800 or so students in the school didn't immediately know what the announcement meant -- or what to do if they heard it.
"They (the teachers) were like, 'Everybody get the hell out of here! Right now!"' Theel said. "They told us to go in a room and lock the door and just sit tight."
Theel and about 20 others packed into a teacher's tiny, windowless office in the library. Toren and other students who didn't make it out of the lunchroom were locked in by the principal and told by teachers to go up against the wall. After 20 minutes, they were shuffled to the nearest classroom.
"We tried to get us all into one room. But it wasn't big enough," Toren said. "So we had to run down the hall and get to another one."
What the students didn't yet know was that freshman John McLaughlin, walking out of a locker room near the school's pool at 11:35 a.m., had allegedly shot freshman Seth Bartell and senior Aaron Rollins, striking Bartell in the forehead and Rollins in the neck.
When Bartell ran up a stairway, McLaughlin allegedly followed him and shot him a second time.
At 11:38 a.m. at police headquarters in Cold Spring, Police Chief Phil Jones fielded a 911 call and headed for the school, arriving about one minute later. By then, teacher and coach Mark Johnson had already disarmed McLaughlin and taken him to a counselor's office.
Johnson had heard shots as he sat in a corner bleacher in the gymnasium. He confronted McLaughlin, put his right hand up and shouted "No," and McLaughlin turned the gun down and emptied the remaining bullets onto the floor. Johnson grabbed the student's wrists, took him to the office and handed the gun to a secretary.
Within a minute-and-a-half of Jones' arrival at the school, emergency workers were on the scene helping the two injured students. A few minutes after that, a helicopter arrived to take the injured students to St. Cloud Hospital.
It all happened so quickly.
"We just had a practice training about a week ago, a week prior to this," Johnson said Thursday. "So, yeah, you don't really think it's ever going to happen. But our staff went through it and they responded pretty doggone good."
Rollins later died at the hospital. Bartell was in critical condition Thursday.
Brady Eyestone, a junior with spiky hair and a wallet chained to his jeans, was in a current events class in a top-floor corner room. The class heard the Code Red announcement, but like others, they didn't know what to do.
When helicopters started to hover overhead and the sheriff stopped by to lock the classroom door, they realized something serious had happened. They turned on the television about noon and only then did they learn about the shooting.
"I didn't know what the (expletive), man," Eyestone said.
Police officers swarmed the school as parents gathered frantically outside.
Meanwhile, students locked in rooms throughout the school began to piece together events via cell phones, televisions and radios over the next hour. But most still didn't know who the shooter or victims were.
It was about that time the rest of the school's students were released from the rooms they'd been locked in and told what had transpired.
Theel was stunned. Rollins was her best friend.
"He was a really wonderful guy. He was really loving. He cared about everybody," she said Thursday. "I was probably the closest girl friend that he had."
Teachers and police directed dazed students out of the school, asking them to put their hands in the air to show they posed no threat.
"We walked across the parking lot halfway over to the elementary school and they told us to sprint the rest of the way," Toren said.