Pictured are Dane County Sheriff's Office therapy dogs who helped calm parents and siblings who waited for students to be released from lockdown on Wednesday. 

UPDATED: Fear, resilience and lingering questions in Mount Horeb

Police use deadly force to stop armed student

Melissa Ingold was in her garden when she heard the bang. It was a beautiful, sunny spring day as she tended to her many upcoming flowers in a picturesque yard that overlooks the Mount Horeb Middle School’s back parking lot. In a moment, the entire community descended into chaos, uncertainty and fear. For most, including Ingold, the day would end in exhausted, bewildered relief as parents were reunited with their children, but that would be many hours later.

The bang was the back doors of the middle school, which burst open as throngs of young students desperately tried to flee the building. The children had been in gym class, learning to rollerblade, and they slipped and slid and fell as they tried to get away from the armed student at the front of the school. As they fled into the parking lot, the students fell to the ground and grappled with their rollerblades. Teachers and other staff members ran out and Ingold heard “pop, pop, pop” as they ran from one student to the next, unhooking their footwear. In their socks, the children ran on, leaving a pile of rollerblades in their wake. The teachers did not leave until every student had escaped.

Ingold, like so many parents in the community, would soon receive the first of dozens and dozens of texts, emails and phone calls. In the coming hours, parents would receive a total of 14 text messages from the Mount Horeb Area School District’s emergency alert system. The first contained the words all parents dread: “MHASD: Vikings, at 11:16 [a.m.] this morning the District is on full lockdown. Please do not come onto school campus. We will direct you with further instructions as soon as possible. The safety and security of our staff [and] students is paramount. We are following emergency protocols. We will update you when we have more information to share.”

The basic facts of what happened are simple. On Wednesday, May 1 a teenager appeared at the front of the middle school, brandishing what appeared to be a gun. The weapon was later identified as a Ruger .177 caliber pellet rifle.

“At approximately 11:11 a.m., a citizen called 911 after witnessing a subject moving toward Mount Horeb Middle School with a backpack and what appeared to be a long gun,” stated the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation. “Mount Horeb Police Department officers responded to the school where they located a subject who matched the description in the area of the middle school, east of the main entrance at 900 Garfield Street, Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.”

Authorities said officers directed the teen to drop the weapon, but the subject did not comply. The subject pointed the weapon at the officers, after which law enforcement discharged their firearms, striking the subject. Lifesaving measures were deployed but the subject died on scene. The responding officers were wearing body cameras.

The distinct blade-slap of a Med-Flight helicopter could soon be heard as it hovered over the village.

One student took off running when she saw the boy, sprinting through a nearby park. She phoned her parents to tell them what was happening, but the call was dropped mid-sentence, leaving her parents with only the information that there was a boy with a gun at the school. Other students, as they scrambled, sent messages that made their parents’ hearts drop. One mother of a middle schooler looked down at her phone and saw, simply: “There’s a shooter.”

Some students said they were eating lunch when they looked up and saw the armed teen banging on the glass outside. They ran to a nearby auto parts store and hid there. On the way, a young girl stopped multiple times to pick up a friend who had fallen. Some children took refuge at the Kwik Trip across the street. Some ended up in the homes of parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends.  

Most students in the district ended up being held on a hard lockdown for the next seven or eight hours. All but two of the district’s school buildings are located together on a block that makes up what is essentially a campus, and students from grades three through 12 can all see one another from their respective buildings.

“At first we weren’t scared because we thought it was a drill,” said one fourth grader. “But then they said it wasn’t and to run. I held hands with [her best friend] while we ran so we wouldn’t lose each other.”

Those particular students ended up running to the Mount Horeb Public Library, where they were surrounded by police officers as they watched “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “Moana” and “Monsters, Inc.” A student described the day as, “scary at first, and then really, really boring.”

“At first we were crying and struggling, but then I decided I was okay and I made jokes so people could laugh while we waited,” said a student.

IC students were held there until roughly 6:30 p.m., when they were bussed to the Mount Horeb Area School District Transportation Center and finally reunited with parents. As they rode to be reunited with their parents, children sang the song, “Survivor.” Some young students had been on a field trip to a mining museum that day. They, too, were held by the district and later returned to parents and guardians.

While young students were easier to account for, those who attend the middle and high schools had spread quicker and further across the community when the shooting took place. The oldest students were the last to be reunited with their guardians that evening. Some didn’t make it home until around 9 p.m.

In the early stages, parents gathered on lawns and driveways as close to the schools as police would allow. They shared hugs and information, some true, much of it culled from rumors and social media and wildly inaccurate, as they tried to make sense of what was happening. People spread rumors that there were multiple shooters and multiple students had been killed, neither of which was true.

Throughout all of this, authorities worked to do two things; make sure the threat had passed and begin assessing the crime scene. Imposing K-9 units swept through the school’s hallways. At the district’s instruction, hundreds and hundreds of parents convened at Life Church on the western side of the village. There, volunteers from the church handed out water, pizza, chips and fruit snacks to parents who had forgotten to eat lunch that day. There, the Dane County Sheriff’s Office released a very different type of police dog; a pair of golden retrievers who circulated through the crowds and nuzzled up to anyone who needed a moment of simple love. In doing so, they lowered heart rates and distracted parents and young siblings who waited for their families to be whole again.

Simultaneously, students being held on lockdown were being fed bananas and granola bars. One student looked out the window of the library and saw a strange scene: a man who was golfing and was not yet aware of the crisis, celebrating, his arms raised over his head in jubilation after sinking a putt. He was like a time traveler from earlier that day, still living in a more carefree time.

A staff member said she was inspired by how well students at the middle school - and across the district - followed the district’s emergency protocols.

“You think these kids never listen, and then something like this happens and they do everything they were taught,” she said.

At the end of the day, every single student in the school district, with the exception of the teen who was shot by police, was safely returned to their families. At the district transportation center, a scene unfolded that seemed unfathomable just a few hours earlier; people smiled and laughed. Young children played on the grass. Older students embraced and shared their experiences with one another, sad about the tragedy but unable to hide their relief at the simple fact that they and their friends were alive.

While many agencies worked together during the crisis, the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) is the body investigating the entirety of the incident.

“Police officers from Mount Horeb Police Department responded to a report of someone with a weapon outside the middle school,” stated a DCI press release. “Police officers responded to the threat and used deadly force.”

They confirmed that the incident took place outdoors and the armed subject never gained entry to the school buildings during the incident. They also confirmed that he was a student from the Mount Horeb School District.

Neither the Dane County Medical Examiner’s office nor the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation have released the name of the teen.

“While the investigation into the details remains ongoing, other than the subject, no other people were physically injured during this incident,” stated the DCI.

The department also confirmed that no officers were injured during the incident.  Involved law enforcement personnel were placed on administrative leave in accordance with agency policy.

DCI is being assisted by the Wisconsin State Crime Lab, Wisconsin State Patrol, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Dane County Sheriff’s Office, Verona Police Department, Cottage Grove Police Department, Madison Police Department, Monona Police Department, Fitchburg Police Department, Iowa County Sheriff’s Office, Green County Sheriff’s Office, Blue Mounds Police Department, Cross Plains Police Department, a DCI Crime Response Specialist, and members of the DCI Digital Evidence Unit.

As of right now, DCI is continuing to review evidence and determine the facts of this incident and will turn over investigative reports to the Dane County District Attorney when the investigation concludes.

All school district classes were canceled on Thursday and Friday, while both days saw staff open buildings so families could retrieve their things and meet with counselors if needed.

Mount Horeb chief of police Doug Vierck also released a statement the day after the incident.

“I know everyone is still reeling from the events of yesterday,” Vierck said. “I want to thank everyone for their patience the past 24 hours as we worked through the unthinkable. We appreciate your continued patience as we allow the Department of Justice – Division of Criminal Investigation to complete an investigation required by state statutes. Mount Horeb Police Department is cooperating with the investigation.”

He also pleaded with members of the community to verify information before sharing it.

“If you have concerns or questions about your child or how they were impacted by the event, please contact your child’s school directly,” he continued. “We understand there is limited information available and we are working as quickly as we can to move forward so we can come to a closure. Before sharing information ask yourself, ‘Is it true?’ ‘Can I absolutely know that it’s true?’ If either answer is no, please do not share the information.”

“For the sake of everyone involved, please do not spread rumors,” continued the police chief.

Vierck confirmed that “a single individual [was] reported around the school with a weapon. Officers from Mount Horeb Police Department responded to the area. When faced with a deadly threat, they responded with deadly force. No officers, students, or staff were injured other than the armed individual.”

“Due to the number of resources needed to coordinate the response and the number of calls and information, there was a longer delay than anyone probably wanted for reuniting the children back to their families,” Vierck said. “Know that the timeline and decisions made were in the best interest of safety for the children and staff while we confirmed critical details. Lastly, I want to thank everyone. This community has been nothing short of amazing. I have always loved how welcoming and supporting the community has been since I was appointed chief of police, but the show of support from businesses, other agencies, and the community at large has been beyond humbling. It would take me days to write every name, business, and agency here, but know that we appreciate everything.”

Editor’s note: All of the information in this article comes directly from students, parents, school officials and law enforcement agencies. None of this information came from social media. The Mail knows the identities of the children quoted, and for obvious reasons published what they said anonymously.



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Mount Horeb Mail

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Mount Horeb, WI

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