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Student arrested after accidental shooting, lockdown at Lennard High School

Hillsborough authorities say the 17-year-old brought a gun with him to school and, while showing the gun to a friend, that friend shot himself.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister speaks to the media about a shooting that happened in the parking lot of Earl K. Lennard High School in Ruskin on Thursday. He said a 17-year-old student took out a gun he had brought to school to show a friend who was visiting him, and the friend began playing with it and accidentally shot himself in the leg.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister speaks to the media about a shooting that happened in the parking lot of Earl K. Lennard High School in Ruskin on Thursday. He said a 17-year-old student took out a gun he had brought to school to show a friend who was visiting him, and the friend began playing with it and accidentally shot himself in the leg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Aug. 18|Updated Aug. 18

RUSKIN — Hundreds of worried parents streamed into the Lennard High School parking lots to reunite with their kids Thursday. They’d seen in texts from their kids and alerts from the school that there had been a shooting outside and the students were on lockdown.

As the number of school shootings grows and discussions about gun control dominate national conversations following the deaths of 19 elementary school students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, when the Ruskin school went into lockdown for around two hours Thursday, some said they feared it could become the latest scene of tragedy.

Instead, it was the case of a student showing off a gun he’d gotten at a party over the weekend, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said — leading to a former student accidentally shooting himself in the leg.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office personnel investigate a shooting that happened in the parking lot of Earl K. Lennard High School on Thursday in Ruskin.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office personnel investigate a shooting that happened in the parking lot of Earl K. Lennard High School on Thursday in Ruskin. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Current student Abel Martinez, 17, had brought the firearm to school with him each day this week, Chronister said. But until Thursday, he had just left it in his truck.

On Thursday he took out the gun and showed it to a friend: former student Victor Castillo, 18, who had come to visit Martinez. Chronister said Castillo began playing with the gun and accidentally fired it into his leg.

Castillo then went home, and his parents took him to an area hospital, the sheriff said. Castillo later was airlifted to a Level I trauma center in Sarasota, where he is in stable condition, according to Chronister.

The school went into lockdown when it became clear to school officials there was a gun on the campus. Chronister said he believes the firearm was a semi-automatic weapon.

While in lockdown, John Segobiano, a freshman, said he imagined a gunman running around the school with a large rifle like he hears about on the news.

“I was scared — I won’t lie,” Segobiano said.

Segobiano doesn’t have a cellphone, but he said he saw a video on a friend’s phone showing a student being arrested by deputies in a classroom. Chronister confirmed that was Martinez.

Martinez is facing a charge of possession of a weapon on school property, which is a felony, according to the Sherriff’s Office.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office personnel investigate a shooting that happened in the parking lot of Earl K. Lennard High School on Thursday in Ruskin.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office personnel investigate a shooting that happened in the parking lot of Earl K. Lennard High School on Thursday in Ruskin. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The lockdown extended for around two hours as deputies worked to find Martinez’s gun, but conflicting stories made that process difficult, the sheriff said.

“People are saying one thing on social media, we’re interviewing our shooting suspect at the hospital — who was completely forthright and transparent — we have our suspect, who at the beginning was telling us a different story,” Chronister said. “There’s another female who was around in a separate car — she had her own version. So that’s what took time.”

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After Martinez changed his story, he told deputies the gun was in the bed of his pickup truck, Chronister said.

When deputies went to the truck, they found blood from Castillo and shell casings on the ground, Chronister said.

Once deputies located the firearm, the lockdown was lifted, he said, and the school contacted parents to come to pick up their kids.

Parents pick up their children as the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office investigates a shooting that happened in the parking lot of Earl K. Lennard High School on Thursday in Ruskin.
Parents pick up their children as the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office investigates a shooting that happened in the parking lot of Earl K. Lennard High School on Thursday in Ruskin. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

As students continued to leave the school Thursday, some smiled and waived at TV cameras on the campus’s perimeter. Others were heard telling their parents they were scared, or that they were relieved not to be another in a line of school shootings.

This is a developing story. Stay with tampabay.com for updates.

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