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Archive for Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hostages at Wisconsin’s Marinette High School tried to put gunman at ease

December 1, 2010

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— His first shots blasted the film projector and punched into a wall. The last he aimed at himself. In between, the 15-year-old high school sophomore held his teacher and about two dozen classmates hostage for more than six hours.

As the gunman died Tuesday, his motivation still unclear, students who were in the room described how they put their captor at ease — even to the point of laughter — by engaging him in oddly casual conversations about hunting, fishing, movies and music. All the hostages escaped unharmed. In the end, Samuel Hengel himself was the only loss.

Monday’s standoff unfolded on the same day that students and teachers at Marinette High School returned from a long Thanksgiving vacation in this city of 12,000 people along the border with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, 50 miles north of Green Bay.

Teacher Valerie Burd’s Western civilization class, the second-to-last of the day, began about 1:30 p.m. as students began filing in. Among them was Hengel, dressed in his favorite Tom-and-Jerry T-shirt and blue jeans. The teens took their seats in a fan-shaped arrangement, and doing worksheets about the Greek demigod Hercules.

Shortly after class began, Hengel told the teacher he was sick, said 15-year-old Austin Biehl, another student in the class. Hurd allowed Hengel to go to the restroom. He returned with a backpack, which police later said contained two semiautomatic handguns, ammunition and a knife. He had more bullets in his pockets.

Burd, a 39-year-old teacher with 10 years of experience in the district, started showing a film about Hercules.

Hengel asked his fellow students how they were doing, Biehl said, then he snapped.

He shot a hole in the wall, then fired two more rounds at the film projector, breaking a piece off of it. The sound of the shots was deafening, said Biehl, who questioned why no one else in the school seemed to hear them. Principal Corry Lambie told reporters he could not say how loud the shots were.

Then Hengel propped himself up on Burd’s stool at the front of the class, pulled another gun from his waistband and laid it on Burd’s podium along with a magazine of ammunition, Biehl said.

Girls in the class began to cry.

“He didn’t say anything,” Biehl said. “We were just scared and shocked he was doing this. My legs were shaking.”

Hengel’s cell phone rang. He snapped it in half. He then made everyone in the class dump their cell phones in the middle of the room. When some began to ring, he ordered kids to remove the batteries.

When the bell rang signaling the start of the last class of the day, Hengel told Burd to post a note on the door telling incoming students to go to the library. Burd asked him if they could do anything for him, Biehl said.

“He just said no,” Biehl said.

‘Hoping to get out alive’

Hengel never made any demands or pointed his weapons at anyone, Biehl said. He never told anyone not to leave, but it did not matter, Biehl said. Everyone was too petrified to move.

“I didn’t know really what to think. I was just hoping to get out alive,” another student in the class, Zach Campbell, told CBS’ “Early Show.”

Then one of Hengel’s best friends started talking to him, and the rest of the class joined in, discussing movies and actors Hengel liked, deer hunting and fishing, Biehl said.

“All his favorite things,” Biehl said. “We were just trying to make him calm. Just trying to make him remember all the fun stuff.”

Hengel complained he had not seen any deer in the last two years and never caught any big fish anymore. He said he had been sick over Thanksgiving with a sinus infection.

He complained about not having enough money to buy Green Bay Packers tickets or a trail camera, which hunters use to record wildlife movements, but told the class he was two belts away from earning a black belt in martial arts.

Hengel even laughed at times, Biehl said, but he looked nervous. His hands were sweaty, and he kept rubbing them.

“He seemed fine, except he had a gun in his hand,” Biehl said. “He seemed to have a lot of things to look forward to.”

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