ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE) – It was a day in Roswell no one will forget. One year ago, 12-year-old Mason Campbell opened fire in his middle school gym seriously injuring two of his classmates. Police, emergency crews and panicked parents lined the street surrounding the school after news spread there had been a shooting inside the gym. Now, 12 months later there’s a much different feeling at the school. The community says it’s a lot stronger too.
The bell rang, lockers were opened and shut as students at Berrendo Middle School made their way to first period Wednesday, but exactly one year ago the kids, dressed in bulldog pride, never made it there. Just after 7:30 a.m., 12-year-old Mason Campbell walked into the gym, pulled a modified shotgun out of his duffle bag and fired into the bleachers.
“Everyone was like in shock. It was really quiet and all you could see was a person running with a gun,” said Student Ryan Roberts.
Ryan’s brother Nathen remembers that day.
“I kind of threw my backpack over somebody and then I got down,” said Nathen.
More than 500 kids witnessed the shooting. Two of them, Nathaniel Tavarez and Kendal Sanders were hit by the gunfire. The small town of Roswell was forever changed and people say a sense of security was stripped away.
“You see it in other communities. You don’t see it this close to home and then you’re like wow,” said Mona Madrid.
Now, a year later things are different in Roswell.
“It’s changed me because I don’t take things for granted anymore,” said Nathen.
But it took a lot of heartache to get there.
“This is one of those events that no superintendent would like to go through. In fact, it’s a fear of superintendents and it’s been a long road,” said Roswell Schools Superintendent Tom Burris.
Wednesday, parents say they hug their kids a little tighter.
“We just send them off with a prayer and knowing that he’s watching over them,” said Linda Johnson.
Since the shooting, the district has put counselors and school resource officers into every middle school it can. It has also upped the security at Berrendo. All classroom doors are locked while school is in session.
School staff shares untold stories
There are two school workers who did something remarkable that day that you may not have heard about. They have never shared their story, because they didn’t want to be in the spotlight, but they’re considered a pair of unsung heroes.
Kevin Hayes is the security guard at Berrendo Middle School one-year-ago.
“When I looked up I actually saw him put the gun down and raised his hands up,” Hayes recalled.
Hayes was on duty in the gym when 12-year-old Mason Campbell opened fire into the bleachers hitting Kendal Sanders in the arm and Nathaniel Tavarez in the face and chest.
Sherry Armbruster, a Berrendo language arts teacher, witnessed it all.
“He was bleeding profusely and I just picked him up in my arms and said momma wants to be here for you, momma wants to hold you and right now I’m going to be momma until she gets here,” Armbruster said.
While Armbruster held Nathaniel tight, Hayes applied pressure to his wounds.
“His face was basically gone,” said Hayes. “I had nothing with me so I actually took my hands I put one under his head and one over his face and tried to stop the bleeding.”
Nearly 20 minutes passed before emergency crews arrived. While the pair waited they did everything they could to keep Nathaniel alive.
“He was breathing real labored. It got real slow and then it stopped,” Armbruster said.
The two thought they’d lost the 12-year-old boy. But then, “Kind of shook him and brought him up to me and kind of loved on him a little bit more and he started breathing again,” Armbruster said.
Today, Nathaniel calls the pair his heroes and they call him their inspiration. Both Nathaniel and Kendal still attend Berrendo but Nathaniel was home schooled last year and Armbruster was his teacher.
Victim recalls close friendship with shooter
On the one-year-anniversary of the Roswell school shooting, Nathaniel Tavarez took KRQE News 13 through that tragic day and his close relationship with the shooter. Now in the 8th grade he says it’s still difficult to walk through these doors after a friend opened fire and nearly killed him. But instead of feeling sorry for himself, Nathaniel says he feels sorry for Mason.
“I honestly feel really bad for him,” Nathaniel said.
Nathaniel Tavarez was just 12 years old when his life changed forever.
“I just remember laying there thinking it was a bomb that had blew up the gym,” he said.
That was January 14th, 2014. The then 7th-grader had just gotten to school and grabbed a seat in the crowded Berrendo gym to hang out before the first bell.
When a fellow student he considered a good friend did the unthinkable.
“It was a loud boom,” Nathaniel recalled.
That boom came from a shotgun in the hands of Mason Campbell. The then 12-year-old fired off three rounds of birdshot, one into the floor, one into the ceiling and one right into the bleachers.
“I never thought he would do something that bad,” he said.
Nathaniel was hit in the face and chest from about 15-feet away. Today, he still has hundreds of lead pellets lodged in his head and is blind in one eye.
Nathaniel says he doesn’t remember much from that chilly January morning. But he says he was buddies with the shooter who left him scarred for life.
“Every day we would see each other we would pass in the halls say hi,” Nathaniel said. “We were pretty close back then.”
So what happened? During Campbell’s sentencing in July he confirmed what people are already suspected, bullying was the motive. In his journal Campbell had written that he was so sick of being tormented he was going to end it by opening fire at his school
Now, one year later Nathaniel says he’s forgiven Campbell and the girl-crazy teenager is using the tragic event as motivation to inspire others.
Despite everything he smiles a lot and really brightens everyone’s day at Berrendo. After the interview he said he just wants to thank everyone for their support.