OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Students and staffers returned to Millard South High School with some trepidation Friday, two days after a suspended 17–year–old fatally shot an assistant principal and wounded the principal before fleeing the campus and taking his own life.
About 100 students gathered outside the entrance of the west Omaha school for more than 30 minutes in frigid temperatures to welcome back their classmates. A handful of candles flickered in jars at an ad–hoc memorial honoring assistant principal Vicki Kaspar and principal Curtis Case on the school grounds.
Some students stopped to look at the posters, flowers and other mementos, while others scurried by, eager to return to class. One freshman took a few minutes to look at the memorial before heading into the school building.
"I think it's going to be a good thing, but it might be a little weird," Dustin Smith, 14, said of his return to class.
Ryan Hogan, 17, said he felt positive about coming back to school Friday but that he was under no illusions what would be the main subject discussed.
"There's going to be one topic in every class, and we know what that is." Hogan said.
Omaha police say Robert Butler Jr. returned to class a few hours after he was suspended Wednesday for driving on Millard South's football field and track. Butler, whose father is an Omaha police detective, gave no hint of his violent intentions before posting an ominous message on Facebook (News - Alert) and returning to school with his father's handgun.
Many students seemed to be OK about returning to school Friday, but the district planned to offer counseling to anyone who needs it.
"I don't think I'll be worried, but it'll feel weird because someone got killed there," 17–year–old German Agraz said about re–entering the building.
Outside the school Friday, a tearful staff member who declined to give her name said Friday was going to be the hardest day.
Jamie Ryals, 17, said she wasn't sure she was quite ready to be back at school.
"I think it's a little too soon," Ryals said.
About 93 percent of Millard South's students attended class Friday and many of them wore shirts of red and blue — the school colors — to show school pride, district spokeswoman Marti Seiberling said. Friday's attendance rate was close to last semester's average of 94.8 percent.
Before regular classes began, students were scheduled to return briefly to the classrooms they were in when the shooting took place, so they could collect any books and other belongings they left behind when the school was locked down for several hours.
Throughout Friday, students and staff members will be reminded of Kaspar and Case.
"She cared about her job and she cared about doing it well. She cared about helping kids. She put in exhaustive hours. She never went home until the work was done," Martha Bruckner, a superintendent in a neighboring district, said of Kaspar.
The married mother of three sons would have turned 59 on Thursday, so students who gathered at Millard South for a rally and vigil Thursday sung "Happy Birthday" in Kaspar's honor. One of her sons teaches science at Millard South.
Kaspar began working at Millward South as an English teacher in 1988 and becoming an administrator after her children were raised. She was named assistant principal in 1998.
"She is a very, very kind, gentle, caring woman," said retired English teacher Phyllis Glab. "She would do anything for anyone. She loved working with the kids."
Ray and Cathy Levesque, whose daughter married Kaspar's son Ron Kaspar Jr., said the family was with her at the hospital when she died Wednesday evening. Vicki Kaspar's sons did not return phone messages left by The Associated Press (News - Alert).
Case, 44, is improving at an Omaha hospital and has been able to speak with family members. He was listed in fair condition on Friday.
Greg Tiemann, a principal at nearby Millard West High School, said the married father of two daughters and a son is a close friend and golfing buddy.
"He is a family man with strong faith," Tiemann said. "But above all, the students are No. 1 in his building."
Police Chief Alex Hayes said Butler's father didn't have any reason to expect his son would turn violent Wednesday because the teen did not seem distraught after being suspended and had no history of mental illness.
Butler had transferred to the Omaha school in the fall because he was having disciplinary problems in Lincoln and had not been listening to his mother, who remarried after divorcing Butler's father, Hayes said.
Butler's final rambling message on Facebook described his unhappiness with the school but did not supply many details.
He wrote that the Omaha school was worse than his previous one, and that the new city had changed him. He apologized and said he wanted people to remember him for who he was before affecting "the lives of the families I ruined." The post ended with "goodbye."
Associated Press Writers Michael Crumb and Ryan J. Foley contributed to this report.