Daily Dispatches
Candlelight vigil at Sparks Middle School
Associated Press/Photo by Cathleen Allison
Candlelight vigil at Sparks Middle School

As schools mourn slain teachers, students ask: ‘Why?’

Crime

As the communities of Sparks, Nev., and Danvers, Mass., mourn the deaths of two teachers, police are trying to piece together clues to why students committed the killings.

Michael Landsberry, 45, survived four years of active duty as a Marine and two tours in Afghanistan with the National Guard. But early Monday morning the math teacher and sports coach walked onto the outdoor basketball court at Sparks Middle School after he saw 12-year-old Jose Reyes open fire on other students.

Students said Landsberry calmly asked Reyes to hand him the gun, and Reyes responded by shooting Landsberry once in the chest, killing him. Reyes then shot himself in the head and died. Two other students who were shot are expected to recover.

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The school district said earlier this week that Reyes brought the 9 mm handgun from his home. Police said his parents are under investigation and may face charges.

It’s still unclear why Reyes brought the gun to school and opened fire, but police were examining an anti-bullying video Thursday that depicts a student bringing a gun to a school bus to scare bullies. Police and school officials wouldn’t comment on the video other than to say that if students watch such videos in class, it would have been part of district-wide curriculum.

The community, including Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, honored Landsberry Thursday morning at a private ceremony in the school gym. One unidentified veteran left the U.S. Navy Medal for Meritorious Service he earned in Iraq with a note that read, “You deserve the medal of honor in my book.”

Across the country in Danvers, Mass., police are still trying to understand what caused 14-year-old Philip Chism to kill 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer, a math teacher at Danvers High School.  Chism, who was charged with murder Wednesday, told police he punched Ritzer in the face and slashed her throat with a box cutter in a women’s restroom at the school, USA TODAY reported. Her body was later found in woods near the school.

Students at the school described Chism as soft-spoken. Kyle Cahill, Chism’s soccer teammate, said, “We're all just a family. It just amazes me really. He wasn't violent at all. He was really the opposite of aggressive.”

Hundreds turned out for a candlelight vigil Wednesday evening in the school’s parking lot. They prayed and sang. At the end of the vigil, they placed their candles, along with some stuffed animals, in the middle of a ring they had formed for the gathering.

One of Ritzer’s former students, Chris Weimert, 17, said she was a warm, welcoming person who would stand outside her classroom and say hello to students she didn’t teach.

“She was the nicest teacher anyone could ever have. She always had a warm smile on her face,” he said.

 The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michael Reneau
Michael Reneau

Michael Reneau is the assistant managing editor of a newspaper in East Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelReneau.

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