Student dies in shooting at Foss High School; suspect captured

January 3, 2006 

A student was shot and killed at Foss High School before first bell Wednesday, and police reported capturing a suspect about two hours later.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the victim as Samnang Kok, 17.

The deadly shooting at Foss High School on Wednesday was not “a random act of violence” but most likely the culmination of a dispute between two acquaintances, Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell said at an afternoon news conference.

Seventeen-year-old Samnang Kok (left) died after being shot in a school hallway about 7:30 a.m. Police arrested 18-year-old Douglas Chanthabouly near the school about two hours later and booked him into the Pierce County Jail for investigation of first-degree murder.

Ramsdell said the gunman, whom he did not identify by name, had answered detectives’ questions during a nearly three-hour interview at police headquarters but did not give a motive for the shooting. The News Tribune obtained Chanthabouly’s name through its own reporting.

“I’m not sure what the motive was or what was said” during the interviews, the chief told more than a dozen reporters and camera crews gathered at police headquarters. “I know they were acquaintances. It does not appear to be a gang-related incident. It does not appear to be a random act of violence.”

Ramsdell did not elaborate.

Tacoma School District Superintendent Charlie Milligan said at the same news conference that classes would be in session at Foss at 10 a.m. Thursday and that grief counselors would be on hand to help students and staff members traumatized by the shooting.

Milligan said he and Ramsdell were talking about beefing up patrols at all Tacoma high schools Thursday in response to the shooting but that an agreement had not been reached by 4 p.m.

“We mourn the loss of our student,” Milligan said before exhorting parents to talk to their children about guns, violence and doing the right thing. “We have a better opportunity to protect our kids with information than with guards.”

The superintendent also said the district would be reviewing its crisis management policies in light of the incident.

Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said Chanthabouly was on suicide watch at the jail. Chanthabouly is expected to make his first appearance in Superior Court on Thursday.

Witnesses said the shooting occurred in a hallway outside the library.

Steven Stone, a 17-year-old senior, said he was walking down the 300 wing hall when he heard a shot, turned around and heard two more. He saw a student on the floor bleeding heavily.

Stone said he didn’t see the shooter.

“I turned around and ran,” he said. “I was scared. I didn’t know what else might happen.” Watch video interview

The shooting sparked chaos at the school as teachers and administrators tried to herd students into secured areas while police streamed to the scene. Students locked in the cafeteria used their cell phones to send text messages to anxious parents waiting outside to pick them up.

One Foss freshman, whose mother asked that her name not be made public, said she and three other girls were in a bathroom when they heard via cell phone that a shooting had occurred. The girl knew no other details, but said she tried to hide behind a bathroom wall.

At one point, a police officer burst into the bathroom and told the girls to stay put until he returned, the student said. Later, police escorted the girls to a classroom, where police interviewed each one. Eventually, she boarded a bus for Wilson High School, where her mother picked her up. The girl, a Hilltop resident who wants to be a nurse someday, said she likes Foss and still feels safe there.

The girl's mother, Laurice Holmes, who has seven younger children, praised the school and police response. "I'm real comfortable with the way they handled the situation. I'm real pleased with Foss. Even after the situation I fell comfortable with her in their hands," Holmes said.

"I just feel bad for the family," she said of the shooting victim. Police and district officials bused some kids to Wilson High School, prompting confusion among parents.

Authorities launched a search of the school and began blanketing the area surrounding it, searching for the gunman.

Vonitha Carter, who lives near Foss, spotted a young man matching Chanthabouly’s description milling around her dead-end street a short time later. She said it was suspicious and called 911.

Around 9:30 a.m., Carter spotted the teen outside again, this time walking from the alley toward Verde Street. He matched a description of the suspect given to her by her boss at Metro Parks and Carter again called 911.

“He came out and he was casual again,” Carter said. “He was so clean cut. He’s very clean.”

The teen walked up the hill of South 16th Street, toward Verde Street.

Within minutes, Carter got a call from dispatchers who said she helped get the suspected shooter in custody.

“Kind of scary,” she said of the situation. “My nosiness paid off.”

A woman whose 15-year-old son attends Foss said he has complained about gang activity and other youth violence at the school.

“You know what’s sad? My son’s 15 and he wants to save up for a bulletproof vest,” she said.

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