Two junior varsity baseball players at Willcox High School were “lucky to be alive” and a man is in custody after he allegedly shot at their vehicle with a high-powered rifle at about 3:15 p.m. Thursday. A freshman was transported to Northern Cochise Community Hospital by ambulance for treatment of minor lacerations from flying glass, said Willcox Police Chief Jake Weaver. The second juvenile riding in the vehicle was unhurt, he said, adding no additional students or staff were injured. The two students were backing out onto Bus Barn Road to get a bucket of balls near the high school baseball field, where junior varsity players were preparing for practice and the high school varsity was preparing for a game with Elfrida’s Valley Union High School.
The gunman, identified as 40-year-old Arthur J. Tineo, was standing outside of the school campus on Airport Road in a vacant lot and shot at the vehicle, putting a single hole in the back windshield, then several shattered marks in a side window.
Both boys jumped out of the vehicle, with the driver, a junior, turning toward the gunman and yelling, “What the hell?” said an eyewitness, who is an employee at the school, adding the gunman then raised the rifle toward them.
The other student, a freshman, yelled at the driver that the man had a gun, so the freshman ran the other direction toward the gym. The school employee, driving a van, told the junior to jump in his van, and he began backing away as he called 9-1-1, he told the Range News. “As I backed away, the man raised the gun and shot again, but it hit a tree” near the baseball field, he said. The employee said, “I am a hunter and I can tell a high powered rifle when I see it.”
JV Coach Ty White said he and the junior varsity players on the field heard what they thought was a car backfiring,
and then when he heard a second loud bang, the team started running toward the back of the varsity field dugout and then the gymnasium.
Steve Jewell, 60, of Tucson said the officiating staff was behind the Ag building “getting dressed to umpire the game." “I peeked around the building. The shooter took off running down the street and turned (into a neighborhood). That’s when I came out from behind the building.” Asked how they saw the shooter when others in the vicinity didn’t, 53-year old John Anderson replied, “We’re umpires. We have good eyesight.”
Ag Teacher Clint Sanborn, who was conducting class in that building, said he and the students didn’t hear anything over the machinery noise. “We were grinding things and making all kinds of noise,” he told the Range News. A student who had made something for his grandfather was going into the Ag Building to pick it up. “The ump grabbed him and said, ‘You need to go in; there’s something bad going on. The kid had that look on his face. I knew it was serious,” Sanborn said. “I locked all the doors, shut off all the lights, and we got down on the floor. We did what we always when we have a lockdown practice.”
Asked about the baseball players, Assistant Baseball Coach Adam English said, “They moved as fast as they can move. First they got behind the dugout first and then ran to the gym.” “Now I know how fast my kids can run,” English said later, relieved that the kids were safe. The Willcox middle and high schools immediately went into lockdown and the Willcox Police Department arrived within minutes. The elementary school was also put in lockdown.
Tineo has not given a motive for his actions, Weaver said. He is being charged with: Three counts of attempted murder; prohibited possession of a firearm; disorderly conduct with a weapon; two counts of discharging a weapon within city limits; assault; numerous counts of endangerment and numerous counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The schools were left in a lockdown until about 5 p.m. when police were confident that no other threats existed to students and staff, Weaver said. Willcox School District Superintendent Dr. Richard Rundhaug commended his staff, the coaches and the Willcox Police Department for their prompt action to keep the students safe.
“The Police Department apprehended the suspect within eight minutes. They were highly responsive. I want to commend them,” Rundhaug said, adding “and our employee risked his own life for the safety of our students; he acted heroically." The eyewitness, which the Range News has decided not to name, said, “I thank God those kids are alive. They are lucky to be alive.”