A 14-year-old boy wearing a Marilyn Manson concert t-shirt and black fingernail polish walked into his high school in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, yesterday and shot four people before turning one of his .38-calibre revolvers on himself.
The gunman was the only person who died in the incident. Two adults and two teenagers were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds and were expected to survive. A fifth person, a teenage girl, injured her knee in a fall as she raced to get away from the scene of the shooting.
The 14-year-old boy, Asa Coon, was described by classmates and neighbours as frequently volatile and angry. He was suspended for fighting at the beginning of the week and was not supposed to be in school at all.
"He's crazy. He threatened to blow up our school. He threatened to stab everybody," fellow student Doneisha LeVert told the Associated Press.
Witnesses said Coon worked his way up the five-storey building, starting with the administrative offices and moving on to the classrooms. One person was reported shot on the third floor. The gunman eventually took his life on the fourth floor, police said.
America's latest school shooting was a little unusual because it took place in the inner city, in an experimental school with a predominantly African American student population. Most previous mass shootings, like the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, have taken place in large, predominantly white schools in the suburbs.
The SuccessTech Academy was the pride of the Cleveland school district, located directly across the street from the local Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters. The FBI opened its doors yesterday to receive students and parents in shock from the attack. Schools across Cleveland are expected to remain closed today.
One mother at the school, Tammy Mundy, described how she received a mobile phone call from her daughter when the shooting started.
"She said, 'Mom they're shooting in here, kids are running out, I'm hiding in the closet,'" Mundy told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Mundy then called her 18-year-old son, Darnell Rodgers, only to discover he had been shot in the arm.
Initial news reports did not specify whether Coon was white or black, but several students said he was nicknamed Jack Black for his resemblance to the Hollywood actor. He walked with a slight limp which some other students made fun of, and favoured the "goth" look exemplified by Marilyn Manson. Some of his neighbours suggested he was bullied, and that he was thumped during the fight on Monday that led to his supension.
Others, however, said he was clearly a problem child. "He's constantly yelling at his mum or anybody else," his neighbour Rachel Metzger said, describing him as a "very hyper kid".
"She [his mother] could never keep control of him. He's pretty violent."
The authorities appear to have responded smartly to the shootings once they broke out. The school quickly went into emergency "Code Blue" mode, and a police rapid response team raced to the scene.
Police said they recovered a duffel bag in a school toilet filled with ammunition and three knives. They conducted a sweep of the entire building before calling the all-clear.
Within minutes of the attack, neighbours heard Coon's sister Nicole screaming inside her house. She ran out and cried: "My brother, no! Oh my God."
It was the second serious mass shooting in America in four days. On Sunday, a young policeman in rural Wisconsin shot and killed his girlfriend and five other friends, all under the age of 20.