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New Details Emerge About Suspect In Texas School Shooting That Killed 10

May 22, 2018
Originally published on May 22, 2018 8:27 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

People in the small town of Santa Fe, Texas, are struggling to cope with the loss of eight students and two teachers who were killed in a shooting at their high school Friday. They're also struggling, as are many people, to understand why the suspect opened fire on his classmates. Police say the 17-year-old student confessed to the rampage. Joining us now from Santa Fe, which is about 40 miles southeast of Houston, is NPR's Eric Westervelt.

And, Eric, first, what have you learned about this suspect? His name is Dimitrios Pagourtzis.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Well, Audie, he played football. He was a pretty high-achieving student. There weren't these sort of glaring red flags that he was in trouble mentally or socially. And the community here is really sort of searching for answers. And so far, there aren't that many. I mean, he was in this Greek Orthodox dance club. He apparently didn't drink. He didn't - you know, he liked to work out, liked to exercise. A neighbor I spoke with told me that, you know, from what she saw over the years - and I'm quoting here - you know, "he always seemed like such a nice, young man. That's why we just don't understand. It's still all, you know, just a shock to us." You know, and in school, by all accounts, he was a really good student. He was engaged. He made the honor roll.

The closest thing, Audie, to warning signs, you know, that we know of were some social media posts before the shooting that included, you know, a picture of his trench coat with some pins on it, included an Iron Cross used by the Nazis, which the teenager, you know, wrote represented bravery. And in his now-deleted Facebook page, he posted a T-shirt that read, you know, born to kill. Police say there is some information on his computer that may point to a motive, but they haven't released details on that. So these social media posts and some evidence that he may have been bullied are really the only clues here.

CORNISH: Help us understand that because you've given us a lot of information about his activities and what he was doing in school, and yet now this allegation perhaps that bullying somehow came into play. What's going on?

WESTERVELT: Well, there's some conflicting information. But several current and former students that we've talked with say that Dimitrios was picked on and was given a rough time by school sports coaches as well. And we've talked to the suspect's attorney. The defense attorney says he's investigating whether there was any teacher-on-student bullying. And here's junior Dustin Severin. He played football with Dimitrios at Santa Fe High.

DUSTIN SEVERIN: He was kind of bullied by coaches, by people. He wasn't talked to a lot. I didn't see him walking around with any, like, best friends or anything. And I never thought that he would just snap and just shoot up the school.

WESTERVELT: Now, Audie, the school district denies he was bullied by staff. They said in a statement they looked into the bullying issue from staff and found the accusations to be baseless.

CORNISH: What have you heard from his parents? I know the suspect is now in county jail. He's facing multiple murder charges and is in fact on suicide watch. But his family has been speaking out.

WESTERVELT: Yeah. The suspect's father is a Greek immigrant. He told a Greek TV station in an interview that he believes bullying was behind his son's actions. Antonios Pagourtzis told Greece's Antenna TV - and I'm quoting here - "something must have happened last week. Somebody probably came and hurt him. And since he was a solid boy, I don't know what could have happened. I can't say what happened. All I can say is what I suspect as a father," end quote.

And one student told a local TV station the shooter had asked her out on several dates, and she turned him down. But, Audie, there's a lot we just don't know. I mean, a psychologist I spoke with today said, look; bullying, if it's true, may have been, you know, one contributing factor, but it's not an explanation. It's not adequate. I mean, students are picked on every day in just about every school across America, and they don't go out and commit mass murder over it.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt in Santa Fe, Texas. Eric, thank you.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.