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Coming To Terms With Texas School Shooting


People who live in Santa Fe, in southeast Texas, are trying to move forward after the shooting rampage Friday at the high school there that left eight students and two teachers dead. Police say the suspect, a 17-year-old student named Dimitrios Pagourtzis, has confessed. And even though the answer may never satisfy, many in this small town outside Houston want to know why he opened fire. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from Santa Fe, Texas.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Chad Purczinsky is paying his respects at Santa Fe High at the makeshift memorial that's become an all too routine part of the mourning process at schools and in towns across America. White wooden crosses, flowers, pictures and cards on the front lawn.

CHAD PURCZINSKY: Ms. Perkins, she was really sweet. She put me in my place few times when I was acting up in class or something.

WESTERVELT: The 20-year-old graduated from Santa Fe High last year. He knew many of those murdered. He stops at Chris Stone's cross. The 17-year-old was among a group of students who tried to block a door to stop the gunman from entering their art class. A shotgun blast apparently struck Stone in the chest.

PURCZINSKY: Chris, he was a joyful kid, man. This shouldn't have happened to him. He was a goofball. I kind of grew up with Shana right here - Fisher.

WESTERVELT: Purczinsky, it seems, is trying to process the horror in real time and casting for a why, convinced there has to be one for the suspect, Dimitrios Pagourtzis.

PURCZINSKY: For the kid to do what he just did, you know, on Friday, there is a reasoning for it, and he got pushed somehow, some way. I'm not sure why. I'm not sure how. But everybody has their breaking point, and I'm not using that as an excuse, but, there had to be something to push him just like all the other mass shootings that have happened.

WESTERVELT: What if it turns out there is no explanation?

PURCZINSKY: Then he's just sick-minded, and he needed help. And people needed to realize that.

WESTERVELT: By most accounts, there were no glaring signs of trouble. The suspected shooter got good grades, played football and had no run-ins with the law. A few social media posts with provocative pins and a T-shirt that read Born To Kill hinted at a darker side. Police say there is information on his computer and in a journal that may point to a motive or to deeper troubles, but they haven't released details. There are also hints the suspect faced bullying by some students, as well as coaches and staff. The gunman's father told a Greek TV station he believes bullying was behind his son's rampage. Parent Jeremy Severin says his son, Dustin, a junior, had his own struggles with being bullied. His son played football with the suspect and saw him mistreated firsthand.

JEREMY SEVERIN: He told me about how the coaches used to bully this kid. And, you know, that he was bullied a lot, and even the coaches did it. And I was like, what? You know, I've had to deal with the school district myself, you know, when he was getting bullied. You know, I went to the school district all my life, and, you know, I used to get bullied. You know, and they want to say it's a bully-free zone now and, truly, it's clearly not.

WESTERVELT: The school district issued a statement saying it's looked into claims coaches exhibited bully-like behaviors toward the student shooter and determined they were untrue. Meantime, psychologists point out that if the reports of bullying are true, that might be a contributing factor but hardly an explanation for mass murder. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Santa Fe, Texas.


Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.