Voices of Marshall: Stories of strength, survival

Front row seat

Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor

Story by Ashley Traylor, News Editor

Story by Connor Jaschen, Editor-in-Chief

 

Several brave students shared their recount of Tuesday’s tragic events. The following story is from the eyes of a young man who was in the school at the time of the shooting. His name has been changed out of respect for his wishes of anonymity.

James was dropped off by his mom early in the morning, getting ready for school in the commons area with the rest of his class. He had just sat down on one of the benches laid out for students. The Commons Area was full of classmates, many of whom were James’ friends. He sat beside another student – a friend of his – showing him a YouTube video on his phone.

“Originally, I heard about two shots go off,” James said. “I thought it was a book, like someone slammed a book down.  But then I heard two shots go off, then there was a three or four second break […] And then there was like three seconds, and he just emptied the clip out into the crowd.”

James’ friend, who was sitting next to him, was shot in the chest. When the students realized what was happening, it was a sprint for the closest door, James looking after his friend the whole way.

“He was hit right in the chest and I was just right behind him the whole time,” James said. “And as [the shooter] was shooting, we ran out together, and I was kinda grabbing [my friend], pushing him and pulling him outside.”

James said he knew immediately he was among several remaining targets: he saw across the Commons Area and quickly realized he was the furthest from the door. The mad dash for safety began.

“I knew we were some of the last students to run out,” James said. “And I just knew we were the only targets left in the building.”

In their run for the door, James looked back into the room. Then he saw Preston, another friend of his, get shot.

“I saw him hit in the head and went down,” James said. “[I was thinking], ‘Just get out,’ really. I wanted to go back for Preston, but I thought he was already, um… out. I saw him hit in the head and went down.”

James and Preston were close, he said, putting him on a list of ‘Top Ten Buddies’. Preston and he had class all year together, even working on a few side projects together outside of school. Most recently, Preston helped James install the subwoofers in James’ truck and helped on construction projects when no one else was willing.

“I’ve got carpentry class with him,” James said. “We had to put a new roof on the house. No one really wanted to do it, but me and Preston – [while working at the job], he got hit in the jaw and got surgery. I mean, it’s an awful job, we’re cutting straight up and everything’s falling down. No one wanted to do it. But me and Preston were up there. And you weren’t seeing him complaining at all. He was a good guy; he was there to lend a hand.”

Preston would later die in a medevac on his way to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

James and his friend were lucky enough to make it out of the building, though not out of harm’s way. Outside, students had continued their desperate bid for safety, sprinting down the roads. No one knew who or where the shooter was.

James and his friend took shelter in the guard shack in front of the school. He said he couldn’t find teachers or officials to direct traffic, so he did what any student would do and he hid.

“You couldn’t hear anything but screaming, sirens,” he said. “I mean, people were crying. […] There was no command. It was kind of just every man for themselves.”

James’ friend, who was still suffering from a bullet wound to the chest, followed him into the guard shack. He stayed only briefly, enough time to show his injury to the three other students who hid with them in the guard shack. The injured student then left.

James wasn’t sure where his friend had gone, but later learned he survived. A school security officer radioed someone, though James wasn’t sure who. The security officer escorted the group of hiding students to the Technical Center, where the rest of the students were being gathered. From there, James was shipped off to North Marshall Middle School, where students were being dismissed to their parents upon showing ID.

First, James called his Mom.

“My mom didn’t know about the shooting,” he said. “I had only been there for less than a minute and she hadn’t even pulled out past the bus garage.”

When James contacted his dad to update him on the situation, he noticed a bullet hole in his phone case. Presumably, one of the bullets fired at his friend had missed and instead hit his phone.

James, who would only later find out the identity of the shooter, remembered having the suspect in class.

“I remember last year, he told me ‘Happy Birthday’,” James said. “We have the same birthday. We had class all last year and he sat right beside me.”

James’ latest memory of the suspect was even more recent, and arguably more personal.

“Before the week out for snow, I played like an hour long game of UNO between him and two other guys,” he said. “And he was fine, joked around, ya know?”

James had no answer as to why the suspect in question would have allegedly committed such a violent act against his classmates, but believes his high school will come back courageously.

“I’m sure we’ll all come together when we come back to school,” James said. “We’ll have an assembly, spend some time together. Have some time for the people we lost […] I think we’ll come back pretty strong when we come back. Marshall County is a strong school.”

 

The Murray State News chronicled the accounts of several Marshall County students in the wake of the shooting. Read their stories below.

Read ‘Looking for an escape’

Read ‘Left without a choice’

Read ‘It could have been me’