Long before 17 people were killed in Parkland, Florida, before deadly shootings on the campuses of Sandy Hook and even before Columbine, 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis opened fire at Frontier Middle School in Moses Lake, Washington.
Three people died.
Loukaitis, who is now 36 years old, will spend the rest of his life in prison.
His rampage ended when teacher Jon Lane took action.
For more than 22 years, Lane has been quietly thinking about what should be done to end violence in our schools.
He also has definite opinions about whether arming teachers is the answer. “I’m not in favor of guns in schools,” Lane told KIRO 7’s Amy Clancy from his home in Moses Lake on Tuesday.
Lane remembered hearing multiple shots and smelling gun smoke from his classroom at Frontier the morning of Feb. 2, 1996. He ran down the hall and looked inside the classroom of math teacher Leona Caires. Her body was on the floor. Students Manuel Vela, Arnie Frits and Natalie Hintz had also been shot. Hintz was the only one who survived.
“I don’t know at what point I became aware of Barry but he was standing up, five feet from the door, standing in the corner. So I dove for the floor and hid behind the teacher’s desk,” Lane said.
He said Loukaitis told him, if he didn’t stand up, “he would start shooting more kids. So I knew I had to do that," Lane said.
Loukaitis allowed Lane to get the injured students out of the room.
Then, Loukaitis held Lane and the surviving students hostage while the rest of the school was evacuated. “I thought that was the end, and from that point on, I was so focused on him and making sure that no more” people would die, Lane told KIRO 7. “I was the adult. I was in charge of the class and I wanted to make good things happen.”
Nearly 15 minutes after Loukaitis first opened fire, Lane said, he saw Loukaitis take his finger off the trigger of the rifle he had been clutching. Loukaitis was also armed with two pistols.
Recognizing the opportunity, Lane tackled Loukaitis and held him until police arrived, most likely saving dozens of lives. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know what he was going to do. I didn’t know what his plan was, but I knew that whenever something presented itself, I had to do something.”
Since then, Lane has received nationwide and hometown recognition.
As a school shooting survivor, he’s deeply troubled by our nation's inability to end the violence.
He’s also frustrated by what he calls “partisanship at a national level” when it comes to discussing ways to end school shootings. “As soon as someone says something, there are 25 people attacking them for it, and so ideas don’t have time to flourish and grow and modify and change,” he said.
After the most recent deaths in Parkland, Florida, Lane wrote a letter about his "heavy heart," asking, "Why do we wait until a tragedy unfolds before we come together as a community?
When are we going to start making a difference every day?"
He sent a copy to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and is waiting for a reply.
The now-retired teacher and wrestling coach believes there should be more focus on counseling, mentoring, family, community and faith. “People are searching for meaning. They are searching for, maybe, something bigger than themselves, and I think maybe that’s important," Lane said.
He also believes troubled students should have access to counselling at school immediately, and that suspensions may do more harm than good. “I dealt with discipline a lot and, too often, when a student is suspended, you’d set them free,” Lane said, “but you weren’t helping them deal with their issues.”
Lane was able to work through the trauma of that day by speaking with a clinical psychologist and is an advocate of counselling.
“I wanted to be an example to the kids and to other people that, when you have something that traumatic happen, you need a professional. It’s a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness, to reach out," he said.
He’s also critical of round-the-clock news coverage in the wake of school shootings because he believes it may inspire others to act out violently themselves, or make threats in a bid for attention.
“Five minutes after the event, you have a microphone in the front of someone who may or may not have seen anything but has their opinion go out to the world, and I don’t think it’s very healthy," he said.
Lane called himself a First Amendment advocate and said, “I know the media has their responsibility and they try to do it respectfully, but I think maybe it does feed it a little bit, or maybe a lot.”
Lane also called himself a supporter of the Second Amendment, but when it comes to gun control, he believes some regulation makes sense.
He’s not in favor of teachers being armed.
“I wouldn’t want that responsibility," he said. “If a teacher had to make a choice of shooting an armed assailant -- 14, 15-year-old, boy -- that’s a tough call. And if you were to shoot and hurt someone inadvertently, that would be even tougher."
“I went into teaching to work with kids and help them make better choices, and help them grow to be responsible adults. I don’t want to be a law enforcement officer," Lane said.
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