Eight injured in school shootout

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GUNMEN once more brought terror to an American school yesterday, sparking a massive police operation.

Eight students were shot and seriously wounded when two youths, dressed in black and wearing ski masks, walked into Columbine High School, in the Denver suburb of Littleton, and opened fire. Hand grenades were also thrown. A local television station, KUSA-TV, reported that the injured students were taken to hospitals in the area. One female student was said to have nine gunshot wounds to the chest.

As many as 17 students were thought to have been taken hostage by the gunmen.

Several witnesses told local television reporters that they saw two men dressed in black trench coats and armed with shotguns - or even machine guns - roaming through the school firing at people and throwing fire bombs.

A student, identified as Janine, told KCNC-TV: "They had black trench coats on. They were shooting people and throwing grenades and stuff. We just walked out and they started shooting people... We saw like three people get shot. They were just shooting, they didn't care who they shot at. They were just shooting."

"We didn't think it was real and then we saw blood," she said. Her voice broke with anguish as she spoke.

One student, Kristin Carbole, said she saw "kids go down". A parent, Kim Sander, said: "My daughter called me over half-hour ago, said it was a white male shooter. She said he was on a ledge shooting down at students. Some girls came back to pick up [a] girl but the girl did not move."

There also were reports of an explosion and fire. Steve Davis, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, said, "We do have injuries... right now all I've got is there have been several shots fired, some explosions heard and some fire in the school." Ambulances and police cars were arriving at the school around lunchtime, as a special operations team was called in.

Jonathon Ladd said he saw students running and heard shots ricocheting off lockers.

Columbine High is in the middle-class suburb of Littleton, population 35,000, southwest of Denver. It opened in 1973 and has an enrollment of about 1,800.

Last school year, a series of school shootings at schools in Pearl, Mississippi, Jonesboro, Arkansas, West Paducah, Kentucky, and Springfield, Oregon, shocked the nation.