The maths teacher who would normally have taught the class was away ill, and a replacement teacher was looking after the children.
Within minutes of the lesson starting one of his charges, Nikki Conroy, 12, lay dead and two of her classmates, Emma Winter and Michelle Reeve, both 13, lay bleeding profusely from stab wounds.
A masked man, carrying a shotgun and knives, had burst into their classroom, ordered the teacher out, lined all the boys up against a wall and then lunged at the three girls with a knife.
The day at Hall Garth school began at 9.05am. Just over 1,000 pupils filed into the main school building in Acklam, a pleasant suburb in the south-east of Middlesbrough. After assembly they split up and pupils due to attend the maths lesson climbed two flights of stairs to their classroom. Just after 9.45, a man wearing a balaclava and dark green army-type combat clothes burst into the classroom shouting, almost incoherently: 'They have killed me and now they have killed all of you.' According to some children he was brandishing a shotgun and carried at least two knives.
The children were terrified and some began screaming, realising that the man was intent on hurting or killing some of them. Nikki probably died because she screamed. The man threatened the teacher and ordered him to leave the room. The teacher remonstrated, to no avail, and then went to find help, leaving the man alone with the children. He ordered all the boys in the group to get out of their chairs and made them face one of the walls.
The headteacher, Peter Smith, 48, ran to the second-floor classroom after the teacher raised the alarm. 'I looked through a glass pane in the door and saw the man lining the children up against the wall. I immediately started to evacuate the building. A few minutes later I returned to the classroom.'
During that brief time the man stabbed three girls as they cowered in the corner. Two teachers then went into the classroom and overpowered him, holding him until the police arrived. It had all taken just a few minutes.
The other 22 children in the class escaped without physical injury, but will have suffered emotionally. They have the day off today but will return to school tomorrow when Cleveland County Council will provide counselling for those traumatised by the attack. Of the two girls injured, Emma Winter was said to be still seriously ill.
Mr Smith spent the rest of the day talking to traumatised children, to parents, the police and dozens of journalists, all asking the simple question: why?
The police did not have an answer. Superintendent Morris Jones, in charge of the investigation, said that he had 'no idea' why the attack had taken place.
The detained man is expected to appear in court today charged with Nikki's murder and two attempted murders. He is not known to have any connection with the school or any of the children.
Near the school, residents stood outside their homes, some in tears at what had happened. David Thompson, 55, shook uncontrollably as he told how six hysterical children had run towards him from the school.
'I was walking my dog through a field behind the school when I saw six kids running for all they were worth.
'As they got closer I could see from their faces that they were absolutely terrified. They said that a maniac was in their classroom and had gone berserk,' he said.
'They told me their friends were dead. They were shaking and sobbing. At first I did not believe them. I simply can't believe this has happened. It is a good area and a good school.'
Mr Smith told the Independent yesterday that he hoped people would realise that what had happened at his school was very much an isolated incident. 'We have to stand back and ask ourselves how often does this sort of thing happen,' he said.
'We should not rush into any panic measures over school security and have guards placed at the front and rear entrances. I would not advocate that in any school, tragic as this event is.'
Timothy Devlin, Conservative MP for Stockton South, said: 'This is an incident that will sicken all right-minded people. But there is no way we can guard our children from such people. We can't put armed guards around our schools or our teachers.'
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