Alaska News

Student kills 2 in Bethel - frightened teens flee high school

Originally published in the Anchorage Daily News on February 20, 1997.

A seething high school student walked into school Wednesday morning with a shotgun and opened fire, wounding three students, one fatally, before he stalked and killed the Bethel high school principal.

Students and officials identified the killer as Evan Ramsey, 16, son of Donald Ramsey of Anchorage. Only a month ago, the elder Ramsey was released from prison after serving 10 years for taking a rifle into the Anchorage Times office and attacking publisher Bob Atwood and his daughter, Elaine Atwood. The Atwoods wrestled Ramsey to the ground.

The principal, Ronald D. Edwards, 50, was a veteran Bush educator whose daughter and son attend Bethel Regional High School.

Sophomore Joshua Palacios, 16, a rising local basketball player, was critically injured with multiple shotgun wounds to the chest, Alaska State Troopers said, and was taken by plane to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.

Janet Asaro, Providence spokeswoman, said Palacios went directly to surgery after arriving by ambulance at 3 p.m. He was in the operating room for three hours but died as he was about to take him to the intensive care unit.

Two other high school students, freshmen Russell Lamont, 15, and Shane McIntyre, 14, were injured by shotgun pellets. They were treated by Bethel doctors and released.


According to eyewitness and official accounts, students were gathering in the main lounge area of the high school when, at 8:45 a.m., 10 minutes before classes were to begin, Ramsey walked in.

By the time the tardy bell rang about 15 minutes later, four people were shot, the school was in panic, and Bethel police had Ramsey in custody.

Lamont was sitting with friends at a cafeteria-style table when he saw Ramsey arrive with a 12-gauge shotgun.

"He had it in his hand. He was looking around," Lamont said.

In Ramsey's other hand was a paper bag. It was filled with shells.

Palacios, Lamont's friend, was with another student near Ramsey. "They were just messing around," Lamont said. Palacios moved away, decided Ramsey wasn't going to do anything with the gun, and came back and sat down, Lamont said.

"I didn't see him enter," McIntyre said. "I just saw him come near our table."

Student Andy Angstman said it wasn't that unusual to see weapons around the school.

"The kid came in with the shotgun and everyone was, "whoa,' " Angstman said. "But we have a ROTC program here, and a lot of kids thought it was probably from that, so there was a delayed reaction. Then Josh said, "Hey, that's a shotgun.' He stood up and said, "Hey, why do you have the gun here?' "

"He had the gun at his hip and basically aimed at Josh," McIntyre said. "When Josh saw him, (Josh) just said, "I'm going to get out of here.' When he got up, he got shot."

Kathleen Cline, 14, said Ramsey fired from a distance of 12 to 15 feet. She saw him aim at Palacios, described by students as a popular sophomore who enjoyed making cutting jokes, sometimes at the expense of others, including Ramsey.

McIntyre said he was hit in the shoulder by one of the pellets from a round that hit Palacios.

"All I remember is a whole lot of people running and jumping out windows," he said. "I just found the nearest exit and went out that and tried to get help from someone at the diesel shop, and that's when I noticed I was shot."

Lamont said: "I dropped down and tried to crawl away. After that I don't remember."

Jeffrey Chon, 14, arriving late to school, was met by the sound of gunfire. He looked down the hall and saw one student lying on the ground and a couple of others crawling away, bleeding. Another student hid behind a phone booth.

"A lot of kids were like, "Run, run,' " Chon said. "I just started running. The whole school was in tears."

"I was right there at the time when the three boys got shot," said Cline. "I was running away — running out of school. I was running for my life, and I was thinking, 'This can't happen here.' "


Erick Hodgins, 18, said Ramsey smiled and laughed as he fired. While other students fled, Hodgins was trapped in a corner, hiding behind a planter.

He thought about tackling Ramsey, he said, but decided against it. As Ramsey walked out of sight, Hodgins ran from the building, then turned to watch through the windows. He saw Ramsey stalking the hallways, firing again and again at the ceiling, the plaster raining down.

Teachers were yelling at him to put down the gun, Hodgins said. Ramsey just reloaded.

Hodgins heard another shot, then a scream. Through the window, he said, he saw Edwards fall face down. Hodgins didn't see the principal get hit, but it looked like he was shot in the back, he said.

Edwards, an ex-Marine, had worked for the district since 1990 and has been at the high school since 1993. Besides the two children in the school, a younger son attends elementary school in Bethel. His wife, Cindy, is a substitute high school teacher. Witnesses later saw her comforting her dying husband.

As the shooting continued, teachers began herding the students into the school cafeteria.

Four state troopers and five or six officers from the Bethel Police Department arrived at the school, said trooper Sgt. Paul Burke. He said many of the school's 450 students were still in the building at that time.

Ramsey fired on the officers and the officers shot back, but no one was hit, said trooper spokesman Steve Wilhelmi.


Despite the gunfire, Burke said, three Bethel officers entered the school and approached Ramsey, who then gave himself up.

"Those officers did pretty brave stuff in there," said Burke, whose daughter is a junior in the school. "That situation calls for ignoring your own safety because there are people who need your help."

Word of the shooting spread quickly through Bethel, a city of 5,200 people 400 miles west of Anchorage. Arvin Dull, manager of Bethel's First National Bank of Anchorage, raced to the school to search for his two children and his wife, who works in the office.

"All my eggs were in one basket, so just as soon as I found out, I had to go," he said.

The main road to the school was blocked and a trooper guarded the school's entrance, he said.

Dull and other parents ran across the tundra to the school, he said, and he could see the worry in their faces. He found his two boys among about 300 students who had been corralled in the cafeteria in a separate building from the school, he said.

"To see the parents going through the crowd of students looking for their children, it was sad," Dull said. "A lot of students had tears in their eyes.

"I found my two boys, but I didn't find their mother, and they were asking about her. I was just as frightened and scared as they were."

He spotted his wife through a school window. She mouthed to him that she couldn't leave, but he was just relieved to find she was OK, he said.

His 15-year-old son, Byron, told him several kids jumped out a window and fell about 10 feet to escape harm.

"I'm finally calming down," Dull said about three hours after the shooting. "Nothing this bad has ever happened in Bethel."

Wednesday afternoon, the school was deserted except for troopers, and yellow crime scene tape was draped around the entire lobby and office area.


Four shotgun shell casings lay scattered around the beige carpet in front of the office. Post-It notes near the casings pointed to pellets.

The office and front entrance are on a raised platform, about three feet above the lounge area. Yellow lockers and a trophy case line one wall of the lounge. Two more shell casings were visible near the lockers.

Counseling for students started immediately at the Yup'ik Cultural Center and will continue the rest of the week, said Bob Herron, president of the Lower Kuskokwim School District School Board.

"A lot of people were exposed to the incident — a lot of students, aides and teachers," Herron said.

All day Wednesday, students and teachers streamed through the center, where guidance counselors and mental health workers tried to help them deal with the tragedy. The counselors talked to people individually most of the day. As dusk approached, about 60 students and teachers gathered for a meeting, and people took turns describing what they had seen that morning.

"We went through a terribly confusing incident," school counselor Lola Mallette explained in an interview. "We need to let people talk about the experience so they'll understand it better."


At the end of the meeting, the group formed a huge circle, and a woman sang a mournful Yup'ik "purification song" as some students quietly sang along. They then said the Lord's Prayer.

During the afternoon, many of the students had signed, handmade get-well card for their classmate, who was dying in an Anchorage hospital.

"Josh, we all care about you," one student wrote. "We all love you."

Herron said the Bethel high school has had only one incident involving guns in the school. That happened over Christmas break when a student brought a gun to a basketball tournament. Though the student didn't show the weapon, authorities found out and expelled the student for a year.

In an interview at his Anchorage home, Donald Ramsey said he last saw his son in 1991, but tried to stay in contact with telephone calls.

Evan and his two brothers were taken from their mother and placed in foster homes after Ramsey's arrest. Evan and one brother were staying with Sue Hare, superintendent of the Lower Kuskokwim School District and Edwards' boss.

The son that the elder Ramsey remembers was "a real gentle little boy."

"I have absolutely no clue as to why he did this," he said. "He's like me in one respect. He's slow to anger, but when he angers he blows up."

Donald Ramsey said he last phoned his son about 10 days ago.

"I wish I could just visit him and hold him right now," Donald Ramsey said.

Other students had a different picture of Evan Ramsey. Ramsey, a junior and a slim youth of medium height, had shaved his head and wore black T-shirts and blue jeans. Students described him as a quiet misfit who found it difficult to make friends and was often absent from school. They said he has a rebellious attitude that often got him in trouble with teachers and Edwards.

A year ago, Hodgins said, Ramsey threatened to bring a gun to school and shoot people.

"But no one took him seriously," Hodgins said.

Myron Angstman, Andy's father and a Bethel lawyer, said, "All the kids say he's had a history of behavior problems in school, of the type that were disturbing. He'd get in fights. One time in the library, he threw the chairs around, actually picked them up and winged them around the room."

After getting home, Hodgins said, he talked to some of Ramsey's friends. They said Ramsey had told them Tuesday night that he planned to go to school to kill Edwards.

Ramsey is scheduled to be arraigned in Bethel Superior Court at 9:45 a.m. today.

Daily News reporters Danielle Stanton, Sheila Toomey, Don Hunter and Lisa Demer contributed to this report.