MINNEOLA, Fla. - A student shot and killed himself Tuesday morning in a courtyard outside Lake Minneola High School in what deputies described as a "planned event."
The shooting occurred as school was beginning at Lake Minneola High, at 101 N. Hancock Road in Minneola.
The student was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to authorities. He was identified Tuesday afternoon as 17-year-old Seth Sutherland, a senior at the school.
Deputies said Sutherland posted on social media before his death, sending private messages to his loved ones to say goodbye and posting a separate public message on Snapchat condemning people he believed contributed to his actions.
Sutherland's family was informed about the shooting, and a chaplain was meeting with them, officials said.
Lake County sheriff's spokesman John Harrell said the shooting occurred during a preplanned fire drill, at which time a classmate found the wounded student.
"We have reasons to believe that this was a planned event," said Harrell, who added that it's not believed any student witnessed or heard the shooting. "(The courtyard near the bus loop) is out in the open, but it was not a very populated and crowded area at that time. It seems like the majority of the student body was on the other side of the building."
But Isaiah Vargas, a 16-year-old junior at the school, said he saw what happened through a window. He said students were attempting to exit the building for the fire drill when staff stopped them and made them go back to their classrooms.
"The body was just lifeless. Teachers were running and everything, saw it through the window. Just terrible," Vargas said.
The shooting was followed by confusion, and rumors quickly began swirling, the student said.
"At first kids were saying someone stabbed him or there was an active shooter or whatnot but then the teacher came inside and said, 'Look, someone tried to commit suicide, there was a gun and everything; people trying to help him,'" Vargas said. "I knew right at that moment things got pretty serious because the principal started crying on the announcements and everything, saying this was an emergency; please stay safe."
Lake County School district communications officer Sherri Owens said students were texting their parents about what happened before the school had gathered all the details.
"In this age of social media, some of the students had alerted parents even before we had the opportunity to do so," Owens said. "But when we alerted parents we wanted to make sure we had confirmed as many details as we could. So when our message went out we told parents, 'It appeared a student took his life this morning.'"
A handgun was secured shortly after the shooting, and there was no threat to other students, deputies said. It's not known who owned the gun.
Owens said officials also do not know how Sutherland was able to get the gun on campus.
"That's part of what we're going to be looking at -- how this happened. We'll be taking a look at this as a school family, the things we can do differently, and I'm sure the individual families will be doing the same," Owens said.
Lake Minneola High and other schools in the area were placed on lockdown as a precaution. Hancock Road was closed in the area.
"The fact that it happened at a time when we had students outside definitely made it more of a challenge, but I think it would be a challenge no matter what," Owens said.
Parents gathered outside the school after hearing news of the shooting. Parents who wanted to take their children home early were able to pick them up at Minneola Elementary Charter School on Pearl Street.
James Wolfe came to the school Tuesday looking for his daughter after he received an email from his wife about what happened. He said he used to be a police officer and encourages an open line of communication with his daughter.
"Given what goes on in our society right now, when somebody has a problem with somebody else they seem to kill everyone, and I'm just thankful that no one else was hurt," Wolfe said. "It's a shame that he did this to himself, but I'm scared for my daughter if someone else decides to come with a gun."
Wolfe was relieved when he was eventually reunited with his daughter.
"I just want to keep my kid safe. Unfortunately I can't do what I used to do anymore to make sure people are safe, so I have to rely on others. Let's pray for them too," Wolfe said.
Classes later resumed, and the afternoon bus schedule will operate as normal.
A crisis team, including grief counselors, will help comfort students, Lake County Schools officials said.
A group of parents formed a circle to pray for the family of the student who shot himself.
What are the warning signs?
According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an American dies by suicide every 12.3 minutes, and there are 1.1 million suicide attempts every year in the United States.
[RESOURCE: Suicide-prevention lifeline]
Health experts say there are warning signs before someone chooses to act.
Warning signs include:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
According to the American Association of Suicidology, the more of these signs a person shows, the greater their risk of committing suicide.
Students who observe bullying or are concerned about their classmates can visit speakouthotline.org or text "speakout" to anonymously report concerning behavior, according to Lake County school officials.
If someone is exhibiting warning signs of suicide they or someone they know can call the U.S. National Suicide prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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