Student shoots himself as school starts at Lake County high school

By Sarah Panko and Jeff Allen, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 14, 2017, 10:31 PM EST

A 17-year-old senior shot himself at Lake Minneola High School near the school's bus loop Tuesday morning, right when school was starting, authorities said.​

  • Lockdown lifted at Lake Minneola High School
  • Lake County deputies: Lake Minneola High safe after shooting
  • Male student found with self-inflicted gunshot wound, officials said
  • Parents, guardians who want to pick up students should call 352-394-9600
  • RELATED: Suicide prevention: Where to go when you need help

Students are safe and there was never an active-shooter situation, Lake County Sheriff's Lt. John Herrell said during a news conference.

"A young man was discovered wounded on the campus this morning, right about the time for school to start, with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound," Herrell said.

Herrell later identified the student as Seth Sutherland. 

Lake County Schools allowed parents to pick students up early, provided they called in first. At one point, the school was placed on lockdown.

Herrell said investigators are trying to determine the timeline of events and are reviewing school security video. He said it appears no one witnessed Sutherland shoot himself at around 7:30 a.m. but school officials say some students saw the incident.

Authorities say Sutherland posted to Snapchat and messaged friends and family right before the shooting. Authorities say another student at the school also posted on Snapchat the day before threatening to kill himself but authorities say that student does not need to be Baker Acted. 

As school was starting, a scheduled fire drill was also taking place. Investigators are trying to determine whether the shooting happened before or after the fire drill sounded. Investigators think Sutherland shot himself in an opened courtyard area, located near a bus loop, that was not populated at the time.

"It's out in the open but it's not a very populated and crowded area at that time this morning. It seems like the majority of the student body was on the other side of the building. The fire drill was one that lead them away from that area," explained Herrell.

It was during the fire drill that the student was found, Herrell said. Two deputies who work full time at the school started to secure the scene and recovered the gun used.

Deputies did a sweep of the school and no other guns were found.

Parents either were notified about the shooting by texts from their students in the school, or from an automated voice message from the high school or a message from the school district.

"A Lake Minneola High School student took his life this morning in the bus loop with what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. There is no additional threat to students at LMHS or any other school," Lake Schools said in a news release.

A crisis team with grief counselors were dispatched to the school. 

"There were students who saw this and that was something else that the school had to take care of, make sure those students were going to be OK," said Sherri Owens with Lake County Schools. 

For some parents, hearing what happened has not been easy.

"It's really difficult as a mom to hear that something like that drastic happened at the school. And we're just all trying to (be) here, supporting each other, trying to get our children," said Lillian Rodriguez, a mother.

Vigil held for student Tuesday night

After a very difficult day at school, students, teachers and other members of the community gathered for a prayer vigil on Tuesday night. The Church at South Lake in Clermont, not far from Lake Minneola High School, opened its doors to people to help them grieve.

“Whenever something like this happens, there’s always lots of questions – about why, why did it happen today, what could I have done,” said Senior Pastor Brian Hammond.

Hammond says Tuesday’s tragedy comes after the deaths of two other students recently that have rocked the school and church community.  Hammond said several students and teachers at Minneola High School are part of both. Hammond urges anyone going through a difficult time to reach out for help.

“I would encourage, especially young people, to reach out and say I need help, because there are people that do understand and want to be there for you,” said Hammond.