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High School Teacher Describes Scene Inside His Class As Shooting Unfolded

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A former student opened fire at a Florida high school yesterday, killing 17 people. The suspect is in police custody now as the community there tries to process what has happened as best they can. Jim Gard is a math teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where the shooting took place, and he joins us now. Mr. Gard, our thoughts are with you all there today and will be for weeks and months to come. Thanks for making time to talk with us.

JIM GARD: Oh, you're very welcome.

MARTIN: Can you put into words the range of emotions that you've been going through this morning?

GARD: Well, I mean, I've pretty much been steady and calm all the way through. I mean, I don't know if it's hit me or not hit me yet. But, I mean, the bottom line is - I have talked to - I think talking to so many people has been helpful.

MARTIN: Yeah.

GARD: So, you know, and my concern really is for my son, who, you know, is in sixth grade and, you know, my family, you know. So we're fine. And, of course, all of my students who I wished I was with, they ultimately are all fine. And that pretty much says that.

MARTIN: You were at the school when the shooting happened. Can you just describe - did you hear the first shots? When did you know that something horrible was transpiring?

GARD: About 2:20, the fire alarm went off. And when it did, I literally just got finished reviewing for a test. I teach an advanced algebra class. And, you know, we were doing stuff with logarithms. And anyway, as I was reviewing for the test, we finished up and the fire alarm goes off and the kids get up to evacuate. I said, wait. Hold on for a second. I said, we've already had a fire alarm today at 9:30. I said, so let's not do anything yet. This could be something - an accident like maybe the culinary class has, you know, bread burning or something like. And I said, so let's hang in for a bit but line up anyway. I gave them, you know, their instructions, reminded them where they have to go. And then we had - one of our administrators got on, and he said, evacuate the building.

So they evacuated. Now, my room which is literally 50 yards away from where the shooting was because all they had to do was go out the door and then down the steps and they are right there. So that's what they did. You know, so they were out pretty quickly. I always go out last just to make sure that no one's in the room, the room's secure, safe. And so as I was leaving, we were hearing all of these popping sounds like firecrackers, lots of popping sounds.

And then the admin got on again and said code red. So I yelled, get back in the room. And there were only about six kids there. So they got back in the room - five girls and a guy. And my door was obviously open 'cause they were running back in. And I looked up and down the hallway left to right to see if there were any kids around. And it was vacant. There was nothing around. So I'm assuming that when they heard those shots, these kids scattered.

So I closed the door, turned the lights out - which is what we're supposed to do. There's already paper over my windows so people can't see in. All the kids went to the back of the room by my closet, just hang out there. You know, oh, my gosh. What's happening? What's happening? I said, I don't know. Is it real? I don't know. I said, maybe they're just doing another code red practice, you know, and they're coming in. And maybe they're firing blanks. We really have no idea.

MARTIN: Did you believe that as you said it, or did you suspect something different?

GARD: I suspected something only because - I said to the kids - but it's kind of weird that they would have the fire alarm go off first and then say code red, I said, because when we were practicing, talking about it, we were going to do it the opposite way. So I thought that was a bit unusual. And I said, but you know what? You know, who knows? So then there were even more shots fired after that that we heard, you know, popping. Now, obviously, I didn't know they were shots. I don't own a gun. So we had heard that. And I said, look, just hang out here. You're in here now. The lights are off. You know, if we're going to talk, do so lowly. And just hang in there.

By now it's 2:25, going to 2:30. You know, we're getting on our computers. We're getting on our cellphones trying to find out what's going on. They're calling their parents. One girl called her mom. She was pretty concerned. So I said, let me talk to mom. So I talked to her. And I said, look, she's fine. She's going to be good. Everything will be fine. We're safe. You know, I will make sure that your child and all the other kids in here are fine. They will be good.

MARTIN: And ultimately they were, which is a blessing.

GARD: Oh, yeah. Are you kidding? These kids are - God, they're great. I mean, the kids in the whole school are great, you know. Administration was fantastic. They did, you know - we were well trained. Seventeen people got killed, but I swear it would have been a lot more without good training. We had really good training.

MARTIN: Did you know any of the victims? We are starting to hear the names of some of the people who died.

GARD: Yes. I haven't heard of any student names, but I do know of two security guards who were killed. One was a good friend of a friend of mine because we coached together. And the other guy, I knew him because he was also a coach. So, you know, and one guy, apparently he had stood in front of several kids and shielded them. And he got killed. And it does not surprise me at all, this guy, doesn't surprise me at all. You know, wonderful man, just a wonderful, wonderful man.

MARTIN: I understand that you also knew the alleged shooter. What can you tell us about Nikolas Cruz?

GARD: Well, I can tell you right now that I had him in class back in the '16-'17 year. And I was actually able to pull up some records - so I really can't disclose - but pulled up some records and he wasn't in class long. It was only the second quarter of the first semester of 2016. So you're only talking November, December.

MARTIN: Yeah. It just didn't...

GARD: So he was only in there for a couple of months.

MARTIN: We have a limited amount of time left. Was there anything that struck you about him that would have been some kind of red flag or is that just cliche now?

GARD: You know, he was there and he wasn't there, you know, kind of wasn't there more than he was there. When he was there, he did some work but never behavior problems, very much of a loner, you know, very quiet, you know, pretty much - pretty unremarkable because I just never got to know him. I mean, I usually get to know my kids really well but not Nick.

MARTIN: He didn't provide an opening for that?

GARD: No. I mean, you know, he just wasn't in class that much from what I can see.

MARTIN: Jim Gard is a math teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He was in the high school yesterday when the shooting happened. Nikolas Cruz is the 19-year-old who has been taken into police custody. He's been charged in that massacre.

Jim Gard, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us and share your reflections. We appreciate it.

GARD: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. You take care now.

MARTIN: Our thoughts are with you. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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