Answers Sought In Northern Wis. Hostage Situation
MARINETTE, Wis. (AP) — Sam Hengel was by all accounts the least likely of 15-year-olds to bring two pistols, knives and more than 200 rounds of ammunition into his social studies class, taking several of his closest friends and other terrified classmates hostage before shooting himself to death.
He was a good student with extracurriculars such as Boy Scouts and Taekwondo. A hunting and fishing enthusiast, he had a lot of friends and police don’t believe he was bullied. He loved his gadgets and the Green Bay Packers.
As law enforcement try to figure out what may have led Hengel to take over his Marinette High School classroom for more than six hours Monday and ultimately take his own life, family and friends say they’re at a loss.
“I was devastated. He was just an exemplary kid,” said Henry Johnston, one of Hengel’s scout leaders. “That question ‘why?’ is just a question there’s no answer for at this time.”
Police Chief Jeffrey Skorik isn’t sure there ever will be.
“We are going to continue to search but that answer may have gone with Sam and we may never know,” he said.
Students said Hengel didn’t explain himself during the standoff, but didn’t threaten or appear to want to shoot anyone despite the sheer number of bullets he had in his possession. None of the hostages was harmed.
Skorik declined Wednesday to draw any conclusions about Hengel’s intent, saying investigators don’t know whether the guns may have always been kept in the bag with the ammunition or whether Hengel put it all together specifically for the standoff.
The chief said investigators in the city of 12,000 people bordering Michigan’s Upper Peninsula had not found any notes or explanations from Hengel as of Wednesday, but still were looking into whether the teen left any clues on social networking websites such as Facebook.
Dave Riley, professor of human development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said whatever was bothering Hengel likely was related to his peers or family members or possibly biological mental health problems.
“From what I’ve heard so far his problems don’t sound different than what kinds of experiences students had in the past,” Riley said.
Austin Biehl, 15, was in Hengel’s Monday afternoon class and said Hengel didn’t make any demands. Biehl said he didn’t think Hengel was going to hurt anyone, but it was obvious those in the room couldn’t leave.
“We just didn’t want to get up,” said Biehl, who said he wasn’t close with Hengel but knew him at school.
A few of his close friends started to make conversation with him and then the rest of the class joined in. Biehl said Hengel mentioned he couldn’t afford tickets to a Packers game or a trail camera for hunting and that he had a sinus infection over Thanksgiving.
But Biehl said Hengel laughed with students while discussing movies and other topics.
“He seemed fine except he had a gun in his hand, that’s the only thing that was worrying,” Biehl said.
Johnston, the scout leader, said he knew Hengel for five or six years and that the teen was working toward becoming an Eagle Scout. He called Hengel a “model kid” who often helped younger scouts learn cooking and camping skills, which other older kids didn’t normally do.
He said Hengel also had a tight-knit family.
The family issued a statement Tuesday, saying they wished they “could provide insight to what led Sam to take these drastic acts.”
“Unfortunately we may never know the answer to the question ‘why?’ because there were no indicators to make us think something was wrong,” the statement said. “In the coming days and weeks as we talk to other people involved in this incident we hope reasons surface so we too, can stop asking ourselves ‘why?”‘
Kody Baumler, 16, said Hengel was one of his buddies and described him as an “awesome kid” who did well in school.
“He’s a really good kid, I’m surprised he would do something like this,” Baumler said.
An “R.I.P. Sam Hengel” Facebook page was up and running Wednesday, featuring many sympathetic comments and several people saying they wished Hengel had reached out to them. More than 2,300 people had “liked” it by Wednesday night.
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