An eighth-grader at Stillwater Junior High School is dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Stillwater police have confirmed.
Superintendent of Stillwater Public Schools Ann Caine identified the student as 13-year-old Cade Poulos, and police said the boy shot himself in a hallway Wednesday morning before classes.
"It is with a [heavy] heart that I offer condolences to this student's family," Caine said. "We're never ready for a day like this."
Poulos fired the gun at 7:50 a.m. inside a hallway near classrooms and lockers, Stillwater Police Capt. Randy Dickerson said. Several students and faculty were preparing for classes to begin and were witness to the shooting, according to Dickerson.
"It's a horribly tragic situation," Dickerson said.
Dickerson said a school resource officer heard a gunshot, notified police and put the school on immediate lockdown. Police initially treated the incident as an "active-shooter situation" to ensure the safety of students and staff, but quickly realized the shooting was isolated.
The school was secure and had police presence less than 10 minutes of the shooting, Dickerson said.
Poulos was pronounced dead on the scene by medical personnel.
Caine said students were bused to the nearby Cimarron Plaza shopping center and the junior high principal used a messaging system to immediately email and phone parents of the students. Students who normally ride the bus were taken home.
SJHS is an eighth- and ninth-grade center and has between 750-760 students, Caine said.
Skyline Elementary School, which is located next to junior high, was also under a temporary lockdown.
"Our first priority this morning was the safety of our students and staff," Caine said.
When asked if bullying may have played a part in Poulos' suicide, Dickerson said before noon that the investigation has not yet pointed to peer harassment being a factor.
According to official school records, Caine said, there was no indication Poulos had been bullied at school. She said school policy is for anyone to report bullying and it is then entered into the student's record, investigated and consequences administered.
"No bullying incident had been reported," Caine said, then she added, "He was a good student. Teachers loved his red hair… they loved his big smile."
However, a Facebook page set up in Poulos' honor Wednesday morning had many posts suggesting the eighth-grader was picked on frequently and students who gathered outside the school told News On 6 Poulos was a victim of bullying.
"Everybody called him Carrot Top and made fun of his orange hair," classmate Cynthia Oliver said.
Another classmate, Albany Butler, said kids would push around Poulos, "tell him to 'shut up,' 'be quiet,' 'I don't like you.'"
One of Poulos' friends said the teen struggled with being harassed, but he was a nice kid who was kind to everyone.
"He was a good friend," classmate Trent Robinson said. "He was never mean to anybody. Sometimes people pick on him and he'll defend [himself] and he'd pick on them back. But he was a really good kid."
Dickerson said Poulos used a handgun in the shooting, but would not offer any additional details as to who owned the gun or its caliber. He said the investigation is very young and police are continuing to interview witnesses to the shooting and school officials are making plans to discuss installing a possible metal-detector system.
Caine said right now, students and staff alike are just "in the midst of trying to wrap our minds around a tragedy."
School counselors were on-site when the shooting occurred, and Caine said there has been an outpouring of assistance from counselors at Stillwater's CareerTech and Oklahoma State University.
The Facebook page attributed to friends of Poulos had more than 3,700 "likes" just four hours after his death and grew to nearly 6,000 before it was shut down. A new page has since popped up and swelled to more than 2,000 "likes" in two hours.
Stillwater Junior High School will resume classes on Thursday. A vigil will be held for Poulos at Stillwater's Highland United Methodist Church, Stallard Street and Scott Avenue, Wednesday at 7 p.m.
According to Tulsa's Operation Aware, a youth-centered nonprofit, the American Public Health Association released study findings last week citing that suicide has now surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the U.S.
If you know or suspect anyone of any age is having suicidal thoughts, you can contact the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255).