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Thursday, May 20, 1999 Published at 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK

World: Americas

US hit by new school shooting

Students thought it was a prank at first

A 15-year-old girl is in a critical condition, and five other pupils injured, following a shooting at a US high school, a month to the day after the Columbine High School massacre.

The attack took place just before 8am (1200GMT) at Heritage High School, near the town of Conyers, east of Atlanta in Georgia.

The 15-year-old, who was shot in the stomach, was flown to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where she is said to be stable. None of the other students were seriously injured.

BBC Washington Correspondent Philippa Thomas: "Police have sent robots into the school to check for explosive devices"
Bill Clinton called for Congress to forge ahead with stricter gun control measures in the light of the attack, which he called "deeply troubling".

"This underlines how profoundly important it is that all Americans come together in the face of these events to protect our children from violence. We must press ahead aggressively with the national campaign," he said.

[ image: It was the last day of school for senior pupils]
It was the last day of school for senior pupils
Hours later Congress passed proposals to tighten controls on buyers at gun shows.

Suspect arrested

The 15-year-old suspect at Heritage High was arrested almost immediately after the shooting. A .22 rifle was recovered.

Rob Watson: "The shooting had a dramatic effect on the Senate"
Police have not named the youth but said he was a student at the school. Schoolmates said he had recently broken up with his girlfriend.

The shooting took place near a cafeteria where some pupils were eating breakfast.

Students said a white male, wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, walked though the double doors into the high school with a shotgun.

He walked into the school cafeteria, fired several times then ran back outside.

Thought it was a 'prank'

Bill Cliinton: "This news is deeply troubling"
"Some guy was in front of the girls' bathroom in the common area, just firing off shots," said student Bill Price.

He said people thought is was a prank at first and took no notice.

"Then people just took off running. Then we looked at one of our friends, and his foot was bleeding," he said.

One student, identified as William, said: "He shot three people. After that he put the revolver in his mouth but he didn't shoot."

[ image:  ]
Teacher Tony Gray said the student immediately surrendered to the assistant principal.

Heritage High has about 1,300 students. Its security measures comprise a campus policeman and surveillance cameras.

Immediate reaction

BBC Washington Correspondent says the shooting had a dramatic effect on proceedings in the Senate, where Senators were preparing to resume a running debate on gun control.

Vice President Al Gore used his constitutional role as Senate president to cast a the deciding vote when Senators were split 50-50 on whether to create a special body to control gun shows and bar non-firearm license holders from attending them.

Student Chris Heck: "The school took no precautions to make sure this didn't happen"
Mr Gore said while the deeper causes for youth violence had to be addressed, gun controls were an obvious first step.

There was a 79-21 majority for measures requiring pawn shops to do background checks on customers before completing all firearm transfers.

Correspondents say such measures would have been unthinkable in the past because of the strength of the gun lobby.

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