Police kill armed student outside Mount Horeb school

Students, families shaken after incident that officials say 'could have been a far worse tragedy'

By and Robert D’Andrea
People wait to pick up students Wednesday, May 1, 2024, at Life Church in Mount Horeb. Angela Major/WPR

A student who came to Mount Horeb Middle School with a gun late Wednesday morning was shot and killed by police officers before he could enter the building.

Police were called to the school at about 11:30 a.m. for a report of a person outside with a weapon.

“Police officers responded to that threat and they used deadly force,” Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said at a press conference Wednesday evening. One of the officers at the scene was the school resource officer.

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“Other than the subject, no other people were physically injured during this incident,” Kaul said. He said police do not believe there is any ongoing threat to the community.

Kaul provided few details, saying the investigation is ongoing. He would not say whether the student exchanged gunfire with police, and would not say whether there were threatening statements from the student before the incident.

Authorities are not identifying the armed student beyond saying he was a male. Students and family members who spoke to reporters after the incident said he was 14 years old.

At the press conference, district Superintendent Steve Salerno indicated that there were students outside the school when the boy approached with a weapon. They alerted teachers.

“Students who saw something happening when the individual approaching the school house from the outside, never penetrating the interior, that worked well today,” he said. “Those students were able to able to communicate immediately as to what they had seen, and staff was able to take action, decisive action, quickly.”

The superintendent credited the community for approving funding for security measures at the school that blocked access, and for the actions of staff.

“This could have been a far worse tragedy, and we’re beyond grateful for the community,” Salerno said.

‘I knew I had to run’

Students and parents were shaken by the experience.

Charity McCarthy was at the Mount Horeb Intermediate Center with her son, Max, 13, an eighth grader. They were waiting to pick up McCarthy’s third-grader and two high school seniors, who were still on lockdown.

Max was in the middle school when he heard a teacher yell “run.” He and several other students fled the school through a back door and sought refuge at a home nearby.

“I heard a teacher yelling ‘run,’ and that’s when I knew I had to run out of there,” Max said. “I just knew that my instincts were telling me to do that.”

Charity McCarthy, left, holds on to her 13-year-old son Max McCarthy, an 8th-grader at Mount Horeb Middle School, while waiting to be reunified with his siblings Wednesday, May 1, 2024, at Life Church in Mount Horeb. Angela Major/WPR

He said he’d had training at school to hide if an intruder came in.

“He ran out of the back of the school during the shooting incident,” McCarthy said. “So he and a number of other kids, they dispersed out the back, so they found a neighbor and hid in the neighbor’s basement.”

She said the neighbor called the kids’ parents, and she was able to pick up Max.

“I’m a little shocked and surprised that all of this has happened,” Max said, saying he was feeling grateful that everyone was OK.

Emergency vehicles respond to a report of an active shooter outside the school around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Angela Major/WPR

Jeanne Keller said she heard about five gunshots while in her shop The Quilting Jeanne, just down the block from the campus that includes the middle school.

“It was maybe like pow-pow-pow-pow,” Keller told The Associated Press by phone. “I thought it was fireworks. I went outside and saw all the children running … I probably saw 200 children.”

One middle schooler said his class was in the school gym practicing in-line skating when they heard gunshots.

Max Kelly, 12, said his teacher told the class to get out of the school. He said they skated to a street, ditched their in-line skates and ran to a nearby convenience store and gas station and hid in a bathroom.

Kelly was reunited with his parents and sat on a hillside with them early Wednesday afternoon waiting for his younger siblings to be released from their own schools. He still wore socks, his shoes left behind.

“I don’t think anywhere is safe anymore,” said his mother, 32-year-old Alison Kelly.

Mount Horeb is about 20 minutes west of Madison.

People hug as they wait for students to be reunified with their families Wednesday, May 1, 2024, at Life Church in Mount Horeb. Angela Major/WPR
People wait to pick up students Wednesday, May 1, 2024, at Life Church in Mount Horeb. Angela Major/WPR

Community deals with trauma

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the incident has turned lives upside down, causing trauma and sorrow.

“To the young people, their families and educators, no words can say enough of how much we as a community are here for you and grieve with you,” Parisi said in a statement. “Dane County is a close knit community. We are here for you and will continue to be. To our first responders, thank you for once again stepping forward to help in another moment of critical need. Let’s all take a moment today to hug our kids and come together to help Mount Horeb heal.”

Students were kept on lockdown in the school for hours after the event, and were released in waves to families. Kaul said investigators were interviewing students as they were released to family members, aiming to minimize trauma to witnesses.

He said “restor(ing) a sense of safety” will be a collaborative effort by the community.

“We encourage parents and caregivers to provide reassurance that this event is now over and that children are in a safe place,” Kaul said. “It’s helpful for parents, family and teachers to help their children verbalize their feelings so they don’t feel alone with their emotions.”

Kaul said the officers involved in the shooting are on leave.

The DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation is continuing to investigate the incident.

Editor’s note: The Associated Press contributed to this report