Kern shooting draws national attention

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

The national focus on the disturbing trend of school-site shootings shifted to Kern County last week when a 16-year-old student of Taft Union High School brought a shotgun to school — inflicting critical injury on a student, and mild injury on a teacher.

The Kern County District Attorney’s office announced that Bryan Oliver will be tried as an adult for the assault. He is being held on $1.5-million bail after his felony arraignment on Monday for five felony counts of attempted murder and assault with a firearm.

Last Thursday morning, Oliver allegedly showed up at school with a shotgun and targeted a 16-year-old student (whose name has been withheld) in the science class of Ryan Heber.

According to reports by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Oliver opened fire, wounding the student in the chest and lodging shotgun pellets in Heber’s forehead in the process.

Both Heber and campus supervisor Kim Fields are being hailed as heroes for talking the suspect into laying down his weapon before the incident escalated. Authorities took Oliver into custody shortly thereafter.

Although an official motive has not been confirmed, previously published reports indicate that classmates claim Oliver was bullied and kept a “hit list” of students. A sheriff’s official said that the investigation continues.

The student victim was listed as in critical but stable condition at Kern Medical Center.

The Taft community held a rally and vigil on Friday, and students resumed classes on Monday.

Both Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood and Rep. Kevin McCarthy were on hand at the scene. “I am deeply saddened and troubled by news of the shooting,” said McCarthy, who added that he and his wife Judy “offer our prayers to the victims, their families and the entire Taft community.”

While law enforcement officials declined to comment on the record on their thoughts about how the local incident would shape the national debate on gun control, some officials indicated that enforcing existing laws would be more effective than increasing restrictions.

Other officials have voiced the need to examine early detection and treatment of mental illness — which appears to plague many assailants — and strengthen school stances against bullying.

See also related story, Page 8.

Story First Published: 2013-01-16