A 15-year-old accused of shooting an assistant principal to death and wounding two other administrators should be tried as an adult, the district attorney said Wednesday, adding that the victims performed heroically to keep the shootings from becoming even worse.
Ken Bartley Jr. was being held without bond in a juvenile detention facility in Knoxville and could have an initial court appearance in the next few days. A judge ultimately will decide whether he should be tried as a juvenile or an adult.
“It is appropriate that he be tried as an adult and subject to adult penalties,” District Attorney Paul Phillips said.
Authorities said the shooting Tuesday at the 1,400-student Campbell County Comprehensive High School began after Bartley, a freshman, was called to the office because other students had seen him with a gun on campus.
When Principal Gary Seale and Assistant Principals Jim Pierce and Ken Bruce began questioning the boy, he allegedly opened fire. The administrators and an unidentified teacher wrestled the .22-caliber pistol from him.
Bruce, 48, was shot in the chest and died at a hospital.
Seale, 55, was shot in the lower abdomen and Pierce, 56, was hit in the chest. Both were hospitalized in intensive care, but investigators planned to interview them Wednesday.
Their families asked “for privacy as they concentrate on the recovery of their loved ones,” hospital spokeswoman Lisa McNeal said.
Bartley was wounded in the hand when his gun discharged.
Phillips, the prosecutor, said police and school officials handled the situation well.
“It could even be said that the specific school officials who were present when this took place were heroic,” he said.
Schools director Judy Blevins said the toll could have been much worse.
“The courageous efforts of Gary and Jim and Ken probably saved many other lives and the lives of our students,” she said. “So we have to think about what they have done and how they reacted and what they possibly saved this community.”
The prosecutor refused to talk about a motive, and he asked all law enforcement officers not to speak with reporters about the case.
The gun came from the boy’s home, Phillips said. “No one else is criminally responsible for the fact that this young man had this gun,” he said.
Student had been in trouble before
Students who brought flowers and memorial posters to the school gates Wednesday said nothing seemed unusual about Bartley before the shooting. Several students and parents, however, said Bartley had been in trouble before with Seale.
Pam Cannon, a parent who has two sons at the high school, and several students said Bartley stabbed Seale in the hand with a pencil when Seale was Bartley’s middle school principal.
The boy’s family has refused to comment.
“The parents of this young man are well-known and well-liked in this community,” Phillips said. “It is a tragedy for them just as it is for everyone else.”
Authorities were interviewing hundreds of witnesses. The school will remain closed until Monday, though students will be allowed to return briefly Thursday to pick up belongings. Churches in the community planned memorials and the school system was offering grief counseling.
Outside the school gates Wednesday, 16-year-old Velissa Ogg fought back tears. “It is just never going to be the same walking into that school.”