First officer inside Berrendo Middle School recounts shooting

Posted at: 01/19/2014 10:49 PM
Updated at: 01/19/2014 10:54 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

New Mexico State Police Lieutenant Gary Smith started his Tuesday the way most days start for him.

He drove his sixth grade son to class, with intentions of leaving him at Berrendo Middle School.

But seconds after arriving, his day quickly changed.

Without realizing it, he became the first law enforcement official inside the school.

It was there that he became face-to-face with accused shooter Mason Campbell.

"We were taking my son to school that day and actually we were running late that day. We got out of our house a little later than we usually do," Smith said.

It is part of Smith's routine.

He drops his son Jacob off at Berrendo and then heads to work.

But as any police officer knows, work does not always begin at the office.

"I began to notice something wasn't right," Smith said.

The principal saw Smith in the drop off line and frantically waved him down.

"She began to scream that there was an active shooter and that shots were being fired in the school," Smith said.

With his 6th grader still in his police cruiser, Smith was forced to think quickly.

"It was a very difficult decision to leave that car, but an easy one to go into that school and protect who I needed to protect," Smith said.

He made sure the principal was safe and then snaked through the halls before getting to the gym.

"I knew what I had and what I didn't have," Smith said. "I didn't have my communications, I didn't have my vest on at that time and I only had my side arm. With that said I still proceeded into the gym."

At the time, Smith did not know how many shooters were in the building or if the shooter was an adult or a child.

"Once I entered into the gym, I immediately noticed a student or a young kid who I immediately recognized due to the fact that I know his parents very well," Smith said. "I know the child very well--the whole family. I immediately recognized him and I recognized the coach standing next to him. The child had his arms up in the air and I saw the firearm on the ground at the feet of the child, which I recognized to be a shotgun. I screamed out--who's the shooter and the coach yelled and pointed to Mason Campbell." 

"When you saw the shooter was Mason Campbell, did it break your heart a little bit?" asked KOB.

"It does now," Smith said. "At that point I was still in police officer mode. I did what I had to do to secure the scene, secure the suspect and make sure there was no other life in danger. But after when I secured him in the conference room, it did hit me that I know this child, I know the was heartbreaking."

The 20-gauge shotgun was at Mason Campbell's feet and Smith knew he had to get the child away from the weapon.

"I gave Mr. Campbell clear instructions to get on the ground; he refused to get on the ground," Smith said. "I gave him more instructions to turn away from me, which he did.  I approached Mason and put my arm on his left arm and I put him down to the ground and got him secured."

While another staff member went to Smith's car to get handcuffs, he noticed a student was badly wounded.

The student was Nathanial Tavarez and a teacher was helping him.

"I'm giving her instructions because the child was shot in the face or chest area and it appeared he may have tried to choke or suffocate on his own blood," Smith said. "I proceed to give instructions to lift the head up and turn his head so that the blood would turn out or he would cough it out."

Within four minutes, paramedics and other officers stormed the school and ensured that there were no other shooters.

Smith went back to his son waiting in the car and had to explain that the boy who played baseball with him and were close family friends, would be the same boy blamed for taking a shotgun to school and opening fire on his classmates.

"You had mentioned that you guys were running late that morning.  Are you so glad now that you were running late?" asked KOB.

"100 percent," Smith said. "I am so glad that I was there, that I could do what I could do to stop what I did stop.  Yes, someone was looking over us that I needed to be there at that time and I was the one chosen to take care of what I took care of."

Smith is absolutely humble about his actions and tells KOB that he acted as any law enforcement official would.