Sadness, grief after Bend High suicide

By Shelby R. King The Bulletin Published Feb 8, 2014 at 12:01AM

Kathy Madison said her daughter, 17-year-old Bend High student Ashley Madison, didn’t want to go to school on Friday.

“She said, ‘None of my friends are going today. They’re taking a snow day.’ I told her, ‘If school’s open, you’re going,’” she said. “Now I wish I would have kept her home.”

Madison’s daughter was inside the high school Friday when it went into lockdown after Bend Police and other law enforcement were called to the high school for a report of a student committing suicide.

Madison was at work when Ashley called her from her cellphone just after noon. She said her daughter told her a boy had entered the modular classroom where Ashley and several other students were just beginning their American Sign Language class and shot himself.

“I got a hysterical, incoherent phone call. She told me he had a gun and he shot himself,” Madison said. “That’s one of Ashley’s favorite classes.”

Interim Bend Police Chief Jim Porter confirmed at a 4 p.m. news conference Friday that a male student had shot himself at the school. He said no other students were injured and the school was immediately put on lockdown for more than two hours while police investigated the situation. Porter confirmed the suicide occurred in one of the modular units outside the main school building. Police declined to identify the student, citing department policy.

“A little bit after noon we got a call at the high school of an incident involving a firearm,” Porter said. “Tragic situation. It was contained immediately. … We were able to quarantine the area, if you will, and ensure safety.”

All events at the school were canceled in the wake of the incident, and district communications director Julianne Repman said the campus would remain closed through the weekend.

Madison and several other parents immediately went to the school to get their children, but couldn’t get beyond the police tape surrounding the school. They huddled together at the corner of Northeast Sixth Street and Burnside Avenue, waiting for news and waiting to hug their kids. Some talked quietly on their cellphones, other cried. Many just stood and stared at the school.

Brian Wallace has two children who attend Bend High, a son who’s a junior and a daughter who’s a sophomore. He said his son was in the classroom when the shooting occurred.

“My daughter texted me. Then I sent a group text asking my son if he was OK,” he said. “He didn’t text me back for 20 minutes.”

Bend Police Sgt. John Lawrence, whose daughter attends the school, approached the concerned parents outside the school on Friday afternoon to assure them their kids were safe.

“How did you guys find out?” he asked the group. “My daughter texted me.”

Cellphone communication was the only option for the majority of parents waiting for news, as no one other than law enforcement and crisis counselors were allowed to enter or exit the school until the lockdown was called off just a few minutes before school let out at 2:45 p.m.

“We just want to be sure it is what it appears to be,” Lawrence said. “Our priority right now is to get the kids who were in the classroom back with their parents.”

The kids who witnessed the suicide were escorted from the school individually or in small groups around 1:30 p.m. There were few words exchanged between parents and children as they hugged, some crying, and climbed into their cars to go home.

Bend High Special Programs Director Sean Reinhart said at the news conference that free counseling will be available today from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Bear Creek Elementary School, 51 S.E. Bridgeford Blvd. There will also be counselors on hand at Bend High on Monday for those who want to talk about what happened.

“Students express emotions differently and … we need to respect that some students are silent, some want to talk about it,” he said. “It’s important to give an outlet for them to express their emotions.”

Renee Shadley’s 15-year old son, Zachary, wasn’t in the classroom, but he called his mom as soon as it happened.

“He said, ‘Mom, we’re on lockdown.’ He was scared,” she said. “I told him, ‘You just stay calm, you stay in there. Keep your cool. You’re fine.’”

At the news conference Friday, Bend-La Pine Schools Superintendent Ron Wilkinson called the incident a tragedy and thanked his staff for their response.

“My heart goes out, and our hearts go out to the family and to the staff and the students at Bend High in this very difficult time,” he said.

He said his staff would work with law enforcement in the future to ensure students can’t bring firearms or other weapons on campus.

“This is the problem with modular units like that. It will cause us to do some evaluations to make sure our schools are safe,” he said. “We will be working to see if there is anything we can do to improve our policies and procedures.”

As she waited for her daughter to emerge from Bend High on Friday, Madison said she didn’t understand how this could have happened and how the student could get a gun on campus.

“I have no problems with the kids walking through metal detectors,” she said.

Will Neelon, who said his son, 17-year-old Jordan Neelon, had witnessed the shooting, was equally contemplative as he waited outside the high school.

“Why don’t we see this coming?” he said. “You see this stuff all over the country, but you don’t think it’s going to happen here. It’s not supposed to happen here.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0376, sking@bendbulletin.com

Rob Kerr / The Bulletin Bend High Assistant Principal Brian Crook, right, steps back as students are reunited with their mothers, Tamber West, left, running, and Barb Abt, green, middle, Friday afternoon. The students were some of the first to leave the locked down school — they were in the classroom at the time of the suicide.
Rob Kerr / The Bulletin Bend High parent Kathy Madison reacts as police provide an update during the school lockdown Friday.
Rob Kerr / The Bulletin A chaplain crosses police tape at Bend High school.
Rob Kerr / The Bulletin Bend High parent Barb Abt, left, comforts Tamber West outside of the school. Both had been in communication with their daughters that were in the classroom when the student died.