A 16-year-old boy shot and wounded a classmate at Taft High School Thursday, before being stopped by a heroic teacher. He shot the victim for perceived bullying, and fired two more rounds before coming face to face with popular teacher Ryan Heber. Heber tried to coax him into handing over the gun while the 28 students in his first period science class escaped.
The boy allegedly told the teacher, “I don’t want to shoot you,” and eventually handed over his weapon to him and campus supervisor Kim Lee Fields. The victim was in critical but stable condition at a local hospital on Thursday night.
The name of the shooter has not been released to the public due to his age, but authorities say he will be tried for attempted murder, and the district attorney will decide whether or not to try him as an adult. It is believed that he obtained the gun from his older brother.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said of Heber, "This teacher and this counselor stood there face-to-face not knowing if he was going to shoot them ... they probably expected the worst and hoped for the best, but they gave the students a chance to escape."
Ryan Heber seems to be one of those special teachers -- not only for his actions here, but also for his apparent love for his students, which allowed him to connect with this would-be assassin. His father David, who also lives in the small town outside of Bakersfield, described his son as a “teacher who knows every single one of his students and not just by name.” He also mentioned that Ryan has been teaching science for seven or eight years at Taft, the same high school he was the student body president of some two decades ago.
This teacher obviously has a passion for his community and especially his students. It’s the kind of person that would pour energy and attention into each student, and get to know them beyond their names, that would stand up to the teen shooter instead of trying to escape out the back window himself. It’s because of that caring that he was able to get the kid to stop and hand over his weapon.
I know this won’t always be the case -- look at the Vickie Soto, the brave teacher in Sandy Hook that lost her life trying to protect her students -- but it’s a start. We can go on all day blaming guns, mental illness, lack of security, or any other number of things for these tragedies, but when it comes down to it, they are crimes committed by people. The best way to start reaching them is to try and connect with them.
Ryan Heber was a hero on Thursday when he protected his students from the shooter, but he’s also a hero every day he goes to work and tries to be the best teacher he can be. Bravo, good sir.
Image via Kevin Krejci/Flickr