Ordinary school day, then shots and death Student kills principal and self

Posted: April 25, 2003

RED LION, Pa. — By 7:30 a.m. yesterday, the packed cafeteria at Red Lion Area Middle School was noisy, bustling and brimming with adolescent energy. As always.

Several hundred eighth graders - most of the class - congregated there, as they always did before classes started. Weaving among the students gathered at the tables was the principal, Eugene Segro, greeting them by name, as he always did.

Then came the unexpected: Eighth grader James Sheets, wearing a black overcoat, stood, pulled out a handgun, and fired a shot into Segro's chest.

For a moment, the students sat in shocked silence, trying to figure out what had happened. Then someone yelled, "He's got a gun." Some terrified students dove under tables and others fled toward the doors.

Angel Williams, 14, was sliding along the wall, heading toward the exit, when she saw Sheets point a gun to his head and pull the trigger.

"I saw him shoot himself in the head and fall to the ground," said Williams, holding her index finger and thumb at her ear. "The look on his face was horrible."

Sheets, 14, of Red Lion, died at the scene. Segro, 51, of York, was pronounced dead at York Hospital.

Red Lion Police Chief Walt Hughes said Sheets entered the school with at least three handguns in his book bag.

Hughes said he learned from Sheets' parents that the youth had gotten the key to their locked gun safe and had taken three revolvers. The principal was killed with a .44-caliber weapon, while it is believed that the student killed himself with a .22-caliber weapon, York County Coroner Barry Bloss said.

Hughes said he did not yet know of a motive for the killing, which occurred at 7:38 a.m.

Some said Sheets had been angry about something and had threatened to kill himself and Segro on several occasions, including Wednesday night.

"The night before, he called friends and said he was angry and would kill the principal and himself," Williams said. "He'd said it before but nobody did anything because he didn't actually do it."

At a news conference late yesterday, after interviewing 100 people, Hughes said the shooting may have been an attention-seeking stunt gone awry.

"If you were trying to impress somebody, it may go further than you planned," he said. "Sometimes they surprise themselves with the outcome.

"We have a lot more questioning to do," he said.

Autopsies were being conducted on both victims yesterday. Bloss said a third shot was fired but apparently hit the floor.

Classmates described Sheets, known by friends as "Jimmy," as someone who got along with everyone and played on the school football team.

"He was nice and was friendly with lots of different kids,"" said Alisha Stambaugh, 14, who sat next to Sheets in science class.

Sheets lived with his mother, Angelia Baker, and stepfather, Arthur Baker, in a well-tended split-level house outside the borough.

Asked what Sheets was like, a group of neighbors consoling each other in the yard next door said only: "He was a good kid."

Segro, who officials say was married and had children, lived in an older community in south York. No one was home at Segro's split-level home. A red Honda was parked in the driveway. Several bird feeders hung in the backyard and the flower beds were freshly mulched. Neighbors shooed away a reporter, saying they were told not to speak to reporters.

Segro came to the school in 1988 as an assistant principal and was promoted to principal in 1997. He was remembered by students, parents and other administrators as a principal who reached out to all students.

"He cared about the kids; it was more than a job for him," said Nicole Wisor, 16, who once attended the middle school, which serves seventh and eighth grades. "He tried to keep kids out of trouble. He kept me out of trouble."

By early afternoon, shaken students and angry parents began streaming into the neighboring high school seeking counseling and information. Another counseling session was held last nightat the high school. The middle school was to be closed today.

"The school district is grieving the loss of our beloved principal and the student," said Larry Macaluso, district superintendent.

Parents said their children told them that the three teachers in the cafeteria at the time fled after the first shot.

"My worst nightmare has come true," said Tammy Williams, mother of Angel Williams and 15-year-old Christy, who also witnessed the shooting.

The school district had only recently received a grant to hire a security officer for Red Lion's middle and high schools, but he was at the high school at the time of the shooting.

Tammy Williams, who said she feared for her younger children in elementary school, said more needs to be done about safety and that she would lobby for metal detectors.

"I do not feel my children are safe," she said. "Security cameras and one school officer are not enough."

Red Lion, with 6,200 people, is near the Maryland line. Its Main Street is lined with Victorian houses, many decorated with yellow ribbons and American flags. But crowding in on the borough from all sides are acres of development. The area's affordable housing and proximity to Baltimore has attracted hundreds of new families in recent years.

Two years ago, another school in the district was the scene of a bizarre attack. A Tennessee man angry about his divorce went on a rampage with a machete in February 2001 at North Hopewell-Winterstown Elementary School, injuring 11 kindergartners, the principal and two teachers. William Michael Stankewicz pleaded guilty in the attack and was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.

News of the Red Lion attack was met with sadness in Harrisburg. Gov. Rendell called it "regrettable and tragic."

A spokesman for Vicki Phillips, the state secretary of education, said the state would work with the district to determine what went wrong. But she stressed that school violence has decreased statewide, as it has across the nation.

"We could put metal detectors on every street leading up to the school and something could still happen," said Keith Pierce, press secretary for Phillips.

Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in California, said yesterday that "despite the public's perception, schools continue to be one of the safest places for young people to be, even if it's difficult for that message to resonate in Red Lion today."

Data from the center show 56 violent deaths in or near schools in the 1992-93 year compared with three across the nation in 2002-03, until yesterday.

"I don't want to minimize the importance of any single life," Stephens said. "However, when you look at the numbers, there are very few instances of violence in schools."

Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Connie Langland contributed to this article.

Warning Signs of Potential Violence

After studying common characteristics of youngsters who have caused deaths, the National School Safety Center has identified the following behaviors, which could indicate a youth's potential for violence:

Has a history of tantrums and uncontrollable angry outbursts.

Characteristically resorts to name-calling, cursing or abusive language.

Habitually makes violent threats when angry.

Has previously taken a weapon to school.

Has a background of serious disciplinary problems at school and in the community.

Has a background of drug, alcohol or other substance abuse or dependency.

Is on the fringe of his or her peer group with few or no close friends.

Is preoccupied with weapons, explosives or other incendiary devices.

Has previously been truant, suspended or expelled from school.

Displays cruelty to animals.

Has little or no supervision and support from parents or a caring adult.

Has witnessed or has been a victim of abuse or neglect in the home.

Has been bullied and/or bullies or intimidates peers or younger children.

Tends to blame others for difficulties and problems.

Consistently prefers TV shows, movies or music expressing violent themes and acts.

Prefers reading materials dealing with violent themes, rituals and abuse.

Reflects anger, frustration and the dark side of life in school essays or writing projects.

Is involved with a gang or an antisocial group on the fringe of peer acceptance.

Is often depressed and/or has significant mood swings.

Has threatened or attempted suicide.

For more information, contact the National School Safety Center, 805-373-9977, or visit its Web site, www.nssc1.org.

Incidents of violence in Pennsylvania schools

April 24, 2003: Eighth grader James Sheets, 14, fatally shoots principal Eugene Segro, 51, then himself, in a crowded cafeteria at Red Lion Area Middle School in York County.

Jan. 7, 2003: Anthony Johnson, 46, an off-duty Philadelphia police officer, suffers a fatal heart attack after scuffling with Donald Simpkins, also known as Donald Moore, 19, in the gymnasium at Overbrook High School in the city.

March 7, 2001: Eighth grader Elizabeth Bush, 14, shoots a 13-year-old classmate in the shoulder during lunch at Bishop Neumann Junior-Senior High School in Williamsport, Lycoming County.

Feb. 2, 2001: William Michael Stankewicz, 55, enters North Hopewell-Winterstown Elementary School in York County with a machete and struggles with the staff. Three adults and 11 children are injured.

Dec. 2, 1999: A mentally ill woman, Kelli Chapman, 33, douses 9-year-old Vincent Williams with a flammable liquid outside Weatherill Elementary School in Chester, Delaware County, and sets him on fire, causing burns on the back of his head and around his ears.

Oct. 4, 1999: Security is beefed up and metal detectors are installed at John Bartram High School in Philadelphia after assistant principal William F. Burke, 61, is shot in the thigh by ninth grader Eric Coxen.

April 24, 1998: John Gillette, 48, a science teacher at Parker Middle School in Edinboro, Erie County, is shot to death by eighth grader Andrew Wurst, 14, at a school dance.

May 24, 1993: Michael Swann, 16, is fatally shot with a handgun by classmate Jason Smith, 15, in a science classroom at Upper Perkiomen High School in Montgomery County. Smith says Swann had made fun of him.

comments powered by Disqus