Rescue worker finds shooting victim is his son

Officials recount incident at Rocori High School

By Joshua Freed

Associated Press

COLD SPRING, Minn. -- When a firefighter found a second shooting victim near the weight room at Rocori High School, emergency medical technician Tom Rollins was the first to rush downstairs to give first aid.

His son Aaron lay mortally wounded near the bottom of the stairs.


Horrified, Tom Rollins returned up the stairs. Someone else was sent to help his 17-year-old son. Aaron Rollins died at a hospital a short time later. The shootings Wednesday also wounded Seth Bartell, 14, while a classmate was arrested as the suspected gunman.

Aaron's wounds were so serious he was sent to the hospital by ambulance; emergency workers gave Bartell the lone spot on a medical helicopter because he was considered more likely to survive.

Authorities haven't identified the suspect, but students and the teacher who apprehended him said he is John Jason McLaughlin, 15, the son of a Stearns County sheriff's deputy. McLaughlin was not immediately charged; authorities had until noon today to charge him or release him. By late Thursday, authorities had searched the school and McLaughlin's home, seizing three computers.

Bartell remained in critical condition early today. The St. Cloud Times quoted freshman Stephanie Stommes, a friend who had spent time with Bartell's family at the hospital, as saying he was able to sit up and move his arms. She said he is breathing on his own and can hear people talk to him but is not yet able to respond.

Flags flew at half-staff in front of the schools and city hall, which also houses the small town's library, fire and police departments. A sign in front of Cold Spring Floral said, "God be with Aaron and Seth." The high school was cleaned as it was readied for classes to resume today.

It wasn't clear whether McLaughlin knew the two victims, and authorities refused to identify a motive. Superintendent Scott Staska noted that McLaughlin and Bartell had been in the same grade in the small school district "for some time." Some students who knew McLaughlin said he was the subject of teasing, in part because of severe acne.

Tim O'Malley, assistant superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said students were still being interviewed and he didn't want to influence their statements by suggesting a motive publicly.

Authorities on Thursday gave the first detailed account of the shooting:


O'Malley said the suspect took a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol from a gym bag as he walked out of a swimming pool locker room. He fired two shots in a hallway outside the weight room in the basement, striking Rollins and Bartell. One boy was about 10 feet away and the other about 50 feet, O'Malley said, though he wouldn't specify which was which. He said the distances could mean that one target was intentional, and the other accidental.

Bartell got up a flight of stairs. The shooter followed him, found him in the gymnasium and fired again.

Mark Johnson, a 27-year-teacher and coach, was getting ready for a gym class when he heard the last shot. He took a step toward the boy with the gun, but stopped when the boy raised it. Johnson, a tall man with a commanding voice, raised his right hand and shouted, "No!"

The boy with the gun emptied the bullets out of the gun and dropped it. Johnson grabbed the gun and the boy's left wrist and hauled him to the school office before returning to attend to the wounded Bartell.

"Very quiet," Johnson said of the trip to the office. "Didn't say a word. As I escorted him to the office, didn't say one word. He came with me very willingly."

O'Malley said it did not appear that McLaughlin was intent on a Columbine-style massacre.

"This was most likely not something that was designed to injure a whole bunch of students," O'Malley said. He also moved to quell a rumor that school officials had received some warning of an attack.

Since the shooting, Johnson has been portrayed as a hero for intervening. At the news conference, he again downplayed the idea, saying a lot of people "would have done the same thing."


"He may very well have saved others' lives," O'Malley said. "I don't know."

Rollins' uncle, Russ Van Beck, read a statement Thursday on behalf of the family, thanking law enforcement and school officials for their quick response.

"Aaron was a terrific young man with a positive attitude and a great smile which we will all miss," Van Beck said. "We all know that Aaron would expect us to make something positive from this situation. We challenge everyone to help us achieve this outcome."

Earlier Thursday, hundreds of Rocori High School students and their parents met with school officials, counselors and a Columbine survivor to talk about dealing with the shootings.

Holly Pardue was a freshman at Columbine High School in 1999 when two teenagers shot and killed 12 students and a teacher. Though Pardue was off-campus at the time of that attack, she lived through the aftermath and said she felt compelled to come to Cold Spring when she heard about Wednesday's shootings on her car radio. She's now a student at Northwestern College in Roseville.

"I wanted to see if there was anything I could do," Pardue said. She praised school officials and law enforcement for their response to the attacks.

"They definitely saved a lot of lives, in my opinion," Pardue said.

Some parents hugged other parents before entering the middle school meeting, which was closed to the media. Afterward, Ordean Peterson, a parent, said Superintendent Scott Staska told the group that students will deal with their grief in different ways.


"Some kids are going to totally clam up and go into their room and turn the music way up and some kids won't stop talking," Peterson said, summing up Staska's remarks.

Firefighters met ith counselors at the firehouse Thursday night, Fire Chief Mike Dockendorf said. The department is close-knit; Rollins had hosted a department fish-fry at his cabin, and Dockendorf graduated from high school with Rollins' wife.

The Rocori district serves 2,673 students from the central Minnesota towns of Rockville, Cold Spring and Richmond, about 60 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.

Donations to the Aaron Rollins Memorial Fund can be sent to: State Bank of Cold Spring, Box 415, Cold Spring, MN 56320; First National Bank of Cold Spring, Box 416, Cold Spring; and Wenner Funeral Home, 600 Red River Ave. S, Cold Spring.

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