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Texas Community Reels After Latest School Shooter Kills 10


A 17-year-old student has given a statement about his role in the murders of 10 people at his high school near Houston, Texas. Ten others were wounded in that shooting. The student has been charged with capital murder. Investigators say he walked into first period art class on Friday morning, pulled a shotgun and a handgun from underneath a black trench coat and began to fire. Explosive devices were found at the school and in his vehicle.

NPR's John Burnett is with us on the line from Santa Fe, near where the shooting took place. John, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: What can you tell us about the investigation today?

BURNETT: Well, the murderer's being held without bond in the Galveston County Jail. Among the dead are a substitute teacher and a Pakistani exchange student, along with eight other students. I'd say the little community here - Santa Fe - is horror-stricken and uncomprehending, just like they were in Parkland, Fla., in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in Orlando, Fla., and dozens of other places in America.

But these mass shootings are happening with sickening regularity. I was at the vigil last night, Scott. Several hundred people were gathered on a grassy lawn surrounded by pines and oak trees. They set up a long table with 10 candles and 10 Bibles and 10 white roses for the victims. This is a local preacher Clint deGroot.


CLINT DEGROOT: My heart is ripped out this whole day because of evil that has happened here on my old stomping grounds. And I see coaches and I see classmates in the crowd tonight. I see a community that I grew up in that I know is strong and courageous.

SIMON: John, what have we learned about the security measures that were in place in the school yesterday?

BURNETT: Well, Santa Fe High School's big. It's got 1,400 kids. And the governor said yesterday they were ranked as a safe school. They had two armed police officers on campus. One of the cops actually confronted the shooter. He was shot in the arm and is in stable condition in a hospital. I asked the Santa Fe School Board president Rusty Norman how they prepared for this sort of nightmare. And here's what he said.

RUSTY NORMAN: We have spent a lot of time, a lot of effort around training our students, our staff, our police officers on these type situations because they are an unfortunate fact of life. You know, our feeling today is that we've done the best we could. We'll learn from this, and we'll move forward.

SIMON: And, John, what do we know today about the shooter - we'll have to say his name once - Dimitrios Pagourtzis?

BURNETT: Right. Well, I was at the vigil last night, and I met this 18-year-old senior named Tyler Ray. He's a strapping blue-eyed athlete who says he played football for the Santa Fe Indians with Pagourtzis, who was a defensive tackle on the junior varsity team. And Ray says he never would have suspected this kid was capable of mass murder. He says his parents would come to all the games and support him.

He and Pagourtzis used to talk about their dreams. Ray wanted to go into the Army. The 17-year-old wanted to go and to join the Marines. Ray even says he joshed with the shooter on Thursday, the day before the massacre. They were on a bus on a field trip headed to a popular water park in Galveston.

Ray says Pagourtzis was not a troublemaker. He didn't know anything about the shooter posting a picture on Facebook of a T-shirt that read born to kill, which we heard about later. This is Ray right here.

TYLER RAY: One day that you know - you think you know this kid, you think you can hang out with him and stuff and you can joke with him. The next day, he's shooting up a school. And - just never know.

BURNETT: I also spoke with Lauren Severin. She's a bright-eyed 17-year-old junior who had a cross around her neck. And she says Pagourtzis was in a couple of her classes. She's thankful he didn't open fire on her and her classmates. She had a very different description of the murderer than the football player did. I told her what the jock had told me, and this is what she said.

LAUREN SEVERIN: I don't think he was normal. I think he was really strange and quiet. And I wasn't really surprised when I figured out it was him.

BURNETT: Why's that?

SEVERIN: Just 'cause he always wears this weird trench coat, and he just kind of looks like a psychopath.

BURNETT: She says she thinks Pagourtzis was bullied in school because he was different. She was clearly rattled, and I asked her how she's doing. She says she's in denial, like the shooting never happened. And in a few days, she's going to have a mental breakdown.

SIMON: Thanks so much, John Burnett. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.