MATTOON -- A male student shot and wounded another student Wednesday morning at Mattoon High School, resulting in chaos as students fled from the school and were guided by teachers to a local elementary school.
Mattoon Police Chief Jeff Branson and school superintendent Larry Lilly said the shooting occurred around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. The male suspect is in custody and the injured student was in stable condition at a local hospital. Names and ages of those involved have not been released.
Scott Bitting said he received an email Wednesday morning from the district explaining there had been an apparent shooting. Just getting off of work at a local factory, Bitting texted his daughter, a junior at MHS, and rushed to the school.
“I blew every stop light there was,” said Bitting, who works third-shift at LSC Communications, formerly R.R. Donnelley. “I just flew.”
Bitting hadn’t reunited with his daughter, Madison, a junior who was last year crowed Miss Teen Bagelfest, by Wednesday afternoon. Instead, as he approached the school, he saw a need to help and direct the otherwise chaotic scene.
Joining him were Shon and Kendra Allsop, who own Shon’s Tear and Repair, a small engine service shop at the corner of 26th and Marshall Avenue, who also helped direct traffic after a Sheriff Deputy’s vehicle was involved in a wreck one block west, the cause of which was not immediately clear Wednesday afternoon.
“At first we were just sitting here watching the chaos but then this being the only through street, we saw that wreck so my brother and I ran down there,” said Allsop. “There was another guy and he said, ‘You need a vest?’ So he gave me that orange vest and I hopped out there.”
In between directing vehicles, the Allsops decided to turn their business sign into a marker guiding parents to Riddle, where students had been taken.
“It was weird,” said Shon. “As a human, you’re just kind of scared for everybody else. As a business, you have to do what you have to do. It’s kind of like these guys over here, they grabbed a couple signs and came out, too. That’s what you’re supposed to do as a community. But it was freaky.”
Shon was joined by the owners of Crossfit Mattoon gym, just across Marshall Avenue to the south, Mike and Mindy Houser, who saw the scene unfold earlier.
“About 11:30 a.m. we saw five police cars go flying by and within a minute we heard kids screaming and running past this way and past that way,” said Mike Houser, who moved to Mattoon a year ago from Sullivan. “Then we walked out and started trying to calm the kids and kind of find out what happened. They said they were told to go to Riddle, so we started telling all the kids we saw go to Riddle.”
Like the Allsops, the Housers also helped direct traffic and posted signs directing parents to the pickup point.
“Us and the other business put up signs saying, ‘Kids are that way,’ because it got a little bit crazy at this corner within 15-20 minutes. And parents were panicking, which I can understand,” said Houser.
Recognizing some of the students as gym members’ children, the Housers then started notifying parents of their safety.
“We actually were looking for them in the mass of kids and texting their parents, saying, ‘We saw your kid. We gave them a hug.’” said Houser. “As they were walking by, we let their parents know ‘Hey your kid is safe. Don’t worry.’”
One of those students was the Houser’s son Dylan Sanders, a junior at MHS, who was in the cafeteria when the shooting occurred.
“Our son came here from the high school and he said he was three or four feet from the shooter, ”added Houser. “He said he couldn’t see because there was a big concrete pillar in between. He heard the shots and they all just scattered.”
Mattoon High School student Colby Filipiak heard students running and yelling as they passed by his classroom door. The 16-year-old said that amidst the confusion his teacher told everyone to run out of the building, so they quickly followed others outside.
“We probably ran four or five blocks and hid in a cornfield,” said Filipiak. “Our goal was to go as far away from the school and away from the street and open areas as we could.”
He said although he didn't realize why they were escaping at first, it became more frightening once he realized. Once to safely in the cornfield, he called his dad, who picked him up within minutes.
“I'm more worried about those who were in the cafeteria,” said Filipiak, referring to where authorities say the shooting took place. “I was in English class.”
Jon Taylor, who lives less than a block north of the high school on Marion Avenue, said his grandson, Malachi Watkins, was also in the high school during the shooting but that he was not harmed.
“I was mowing and all of a sudden a bunch of kids came down this alley running that way,” said Taylor. “None of them stopped and said anything. They were going pretty quick.”
Taylor’s granddaughter, Makayla, graduated from Mattoon last year and said locating her brother was a big relief.
“We just bum rushed him and were freaking out, like, ‘Thank god you’re okay.’ Because he wasn’t answering his phone,” said Watkins.
“I feel sick,” she added. “Because I just (graduated) and I know everyone in this school. I visit it often. I know the faculty and all the students. I wanted everyone to be okay.”
More details on the shooting were expected Wednesday evening at a joint press conference, but in the immediate hours following the shooting, Mattoon residents were in disbelief that a school shooting had occurred in their town.
“This isn’t something that is supposed to happen here,” said Allsop. “This is what you hear about on the news. This is big city stuff. To us, this is a small town.”
“You hear people say that they never think it would happen in your city, you think it happens in big cities,” added Houser. “Compared to Sullivan, Mattoon is a much bigger city, but it’s still not something you’d expect in a town of 18,000 people.”