AP Photo/Kevin Clifford
Police secure the scene near Sparks Middle School after a shooting in Sparks, Nev., on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Authorities are reporting that two people were killed and two wounded at the Nevada middle school. (AP Photo/Kevin Clifford) The Associated Press
A middle school student opened fire on campus just before the opening bell, wounding two boys and killing a staff member who was trying to protect other children, Sparks police said Monday.
The lone suspected gunman was also dead, though it's unclear whether the student committed suicide. Authorities say no shots were fired by law enforcement. Names of the suspect and the school employee haven't yet been released.
"In my estimation, he is a hero ... We do know he was trying to intervene," Reno Deputy Police Chief Tom Robinson said about the fallen staff member.
Two other students at the school of mostly 12- and 13-year-olds were critically injured in the violence that erupted around 7:15 a.m., shortly before classes began Monday. One is out of surgery and the other is doing well, according to police.
A motive for the violence was unknown.
"As you can imagine, the best description is chaos," Robinson said. "It's too early to say whether he was targeting people or going on an indiscriminate shooting spree."
Police said between 150 and 200 officers, including some from as far as 100 kilometres away, responded to the shooting.
Students from the middle school and neighbouring elementary school were evacuated to the nearby high school, and classes were cancelled.
At the evacuation centre, parents walked with their arms around their children, some of whom were in tears.
"We came flying down here to get our kids," said Mike Fiorica, whose nephew attends the school. "... It's really chaotic. You can imagine how parents are feeling. You don't know if your kid's OK."
The shooting happened on the school's campus and ended outside the school building itself, according to police.
'A traumatic morning'
"I was deeply saddened to learn of the horrific shooting at Sparks Middle School this morning," Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a statement. Sandoval extended his thoughts and prayers to those affected.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered his condolences to students, parents and staff who experienced "a traumatic morning."
"No words of condolence could possibly ease the pain, but I hope it is some small comfort that Nevada mourns with them. I stand by to be of any assistance if there is anything that can be done," Reid said in a statement.
The school, located in a working class neighbourhood, enrols about 700 students in 7th and 8th grades.
The violence erupted nearly a year after a gunman horrified the nation by opening fire in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, leaving 26 dead. The Dec. 14 shooting reignited debate over how best to protect the nation's schools and whether armed teachers should be part of that equation.
In a statement on the website of Sandy Hook Promise, a gun control advocacy group, Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed in the shooting, said: "It's moments like this that demand that we unite as parents to find common sense solutions that keep our children—all children—safe, and prevent these tragedies from happening again and again."
Washoe County School District held a session in the spring after the Connecticut tragedy to educate parents on what safety measures the district takes.
Sparks, a city of roughly 90,000 that sprung out of the railway industry, lies just east of Reno.