MARINETTE — After months of exhaustive investigations, police in northeastern Wisconsin said Friday that they never found a clue to explain why a popular teenager held his high school class hostage for six hours before fatally shooting himself as a SWAT team swarmed the classroom.
Investigators talked to Sam Hengel’s family, friends, teachers, classmates and even his Boy Scout leaders, looking for the slightest hint as to why the 15-year-old brought two handguns and ammunition to class on Nov. 29. But nearly every interview painted a similar portrait of a smart, quiet leader who was well-liked and didn’t have problems with bullies.
Not even a crude sketch he drew depicting scenes of violence and warfare indicated something was amiss and did not appear to be linked to the classroom attack, police said.
Releasing a 355-page report on the closed investigation, Marinette Police Chief Jeffrey Skorik told reporters that Hengel apparently acted alone. He said there had been no indication that Hengel had been planning an attack.
“We still don’t know why he did this and what his intentions were,” Skorik said. “I don’t know that we could have done anything differently that would have prevented this outcome.”
There was no evidence to suggest Hengel was being bullied or had suffered a breakup, Skorik said. Toxicology reports came back clean.
Hengel’s parents described him as a speed reader and “a natural” with schoolwork.
Skorik said the boy had a good family life and a strong relationship with his father. He said Hengel had no known mental health issues. Teachers and students reported seeing nothing unusual about Hengel in the days and hours leading up to the standoff.
Skorik said he didn’t think there was any link between the undated drawing and the hostage incident.
“That picture shows a bomb, a helicopter, a parachute, an outdoor scene,” Skorik said. “None of that has to do with the incident in the school.”
The standoff unfolded at Marinette High School in Marinette, a city of 12,000 people along the border with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula some 50 miles north of Green Bay.
Hengel brought a backpack to class that contained his father’s 9mm handgun and a .22 caliber pistol that belonged to his grandfather, plus more than 200 rounds of ammunition and a pair of knives. He had more bullets in his pockets. His father told police that Sam had fired the 9mm at a shooting range at the family’s cabin in nearby Florence County about a week earlier.
During the hostage-taking, he fired three shots from one gun and laid another gun and the ammunition on a podium. He never pointed his weapon at anyone or made any demand except telling people not to leave.
Six hours later, he fired three more rounds, at a telephone and a computer. SWAT officers waiting outside, fearing the worst, broke down the door and rushed at Hengel. An officer grabbed Hengel’s arm just as the teen pointed a gun at his own head and squeezed the trigger. Hengel died the next morning.