CAZENOVIA, Wis. – The 49-year-old principal of Weston High School died Friday from gunshot wounds inflicted by a freshman student earlier in the day.

The principal, John Klang, approached the student, 15-year-old Eric Hainstock, after the boy had broken away from a school custodian just inside the school entrance. The custodian had taken a shotgun from the boy in that initial struggle.

Sauk County Sheriff Randy Stammen said Hainstock shot Klang in the chest, head and leg with a .22-caliber revolver he had taken from the family home, just outside the small town of La Valle.

Students and staff subdued the boy after the shooting, which shattered the school and the community on Weston’s homecoming weekend.

Investigators were searching the Hainstock family home near late Friday afternoon, looking for evidence of a conspiracy and other clues in a tragedy that brought the national plague of schoolhouse violence to a hilly, rustic area of western Wisconsin.

Hainstock told a fellow student earlier this week that “he didn’t think Mr. Klang would make it through homecoming,” Sauk County District Attorney Patricia Barrett said at a news conference.

Barrett charged Hainstock with first-degree intentional homicide and expected he would appear in court Monday.

While statements from fellow students suggested the youth harbored ill feelings toward Klang, authorities still were uncertain of a true motive for the slaying.

“I’m not privileged to be in the defendant’s mind to know his motivation,” Barrett said. “He certainly was unhappy with homecoming and was unhappy with the principal.”

Students who spoke to a reporter Friday afternoon said Hainstock had thrown a stapler at a teacher within the past week and had been disciplined for the infraction.

Hainstock didn’t fit in among the high school’s 110 students and was teased at times, his fellow students said.

“He had always been weird and kind of crazy, said 12-year-old Robert Cohoon. “He’d talk about how he’d probably hurt somebody if he wanted.”

Klang had been a school board member in the Weston District for about 20 years, while he farmed and worked as a part-time teacher. A few years ago, he took on the duties of athletic director, then principal. He was preparing to take over as superintendent.

Terry Milfred, the school’s current superintendent, struggled not to cry as he spoke of Klang, his successor.

“He was injured because he was trying to maintain control and protect students and staff at Weston, all of whom are grateful and safe as a result of his efforts.”

“He’s always kind and compassionate,” Milfred said. “His soft-spoken words touched many students, staff and community members . . . He isn’t the kind of principal who sits behind a desk to run the school.”

The attack inside the high school was the second of two tragedies to strike the area on Friday.

Less than fifteen minutes before the school shooting, a 16-year-old Weston High School student crashed a car at high speed and was pronounced dead on arrival at the UW Hospital. The boy’s father is a member of the school board.

Sheriff Stammen said a deputy observed the car speeding, followed it, then lost sight of it. He discovered the car moments later, crashed.

The driver was not wearing a seatbelt. A passenger in the car, another boy, was injured, but treated and released at Reedsburg Area Medical Center.

Witness accounts of the shooting describe Hainstock as a young man on a mission as he approached the school about 8 a.m., armed with the shotgun and the revolver.

School custodian Dave Thompson, 43, said the boy initially pointed the shotgun at a teacher, Chuck Keller.

“He said he was there to kill somebody,” Thompson said.

The custodian grabbed the barrel of the shotgun and yanked it from the youth he described as “120 pounds soaking wet.”

“When I grabbed the guy, he just gave me a dirty look, like ‘what are you doing taking the gun?”‘ Thompson said.

At that point, the student reached into his pocket and started to run.

“I hollered, “Chuck, I think he’s got a handgun, run”‘ Thompson recounted.

Hainstock then ran down the hallway.

“He was kind of calm about it, but he had a mission and he was going to do something,” Thompson said.

Sheriff Stammen said Klang approached Hainstock in the hallway, and the youth fired three rounds from the handgun, hitting Klang with each shot. He died about 3:30 p.m. at the UW Hospital in Madison, Wis.

“It truly is a shock,” Stammen said. “It’s an extremely unfortunate situation, not one that we haven’t anticipated and trained for, but it’s truly, truly unfortunate.”

After the Hainstock was subdued, students in the building that houses about 360 were locked into classrooms and the lights were darkened. Younger children in the adjoining elementary and middle schools were evacuated about 9:30 a.m., and the high school students were sent to a gymnasium for crisis counseling. Students were then allowed to go home at will.

Weston is a small school district serving families from three towns.

The homecoming celebration, including Friday’s football game and Saturday’s dance, have been postponed.

Outside the school late Friday, the trees remained festooned with the trappings of homecoming: toilet paper fluttering in the breeze. Messages written on the windows of cars in the parking lot promised a victory for the Silver Eagles, and touted the superiority of the senior class.

Dawn Seep, the mother of two students, sorted through the emotions as she looked upon the scene late Friday.

It’s not supposed to happen here, it’s not supposed to happen anywhere, but you would think a little cow-town like this, a cornfield school . . . it’s just surreal,” Seep said.

“By the same token, it’s a small town and everybody will help each other. Already the kids are just bonding and wanting to be together.”

(c) 2006, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


PHOTO (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): SCHOOLSHOOTING

AP-NY-09-29-06 2159EDT

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