manuel vela

“I Guess Reflex Just Took Over” - The Frontier Middle School Shooting

Fourteen year old Barry Dale Loukaitis was a severely troubled young man with a difficult home life. His father was largely absent for most of his childhood, and his mother often talked about suicide. Barry felt isolated and different from his classmates, and they treated him like an outcast. Whats more, Barry Loukaitis had entered puberty in the Nineties, a decade notorious for an unprecedented increase in gun violence in schools across America.

On February 2, 1996, Barry Loukaitis walked to Frontier Middle School in Moses Lake, Washington, dressed in a long duster coat, boots, and a cowboy hat. Concealed in the coat was a 30-30 rifle and two handguns, along with over seventy rounds of ammunition. Loukaitis calmly approached his algebra classroom, walked through the door, and opened fire; two boys who were sitting at the front of the classroom, Arnold Fritz and Manuel Vela, were killed instantly. Loukaitis then fatally shot the teacher, Leona Caires, in the chest. Another girl received gunshot wounds to her leg and abdomen, but she would pull through and live.

Loukaitis took the rest of the class hostage. Realising the police had surrounded the school, Loukaitis panicked and told the frightened children one of them would have to come along as a shield so he could safely escape the school. Two teachers who had run into the classroom when he fired the first shots both volunteered to be hostages. Loukaitis chose Jon Lane, a gym teacher, and told him to walk. Instead Lane grabbed the barrel of Loukaitis’ rifle and wrestled him to the ground. Lane shouted at the children to run, and they were evacuated by encroaching police. Lane kept Loukaitis pinned to the ground until they arrived and arrested him.

Loukaitis showed little emotion when discussing the shooting in his police interviews, and coolly remarked that “reflex took over” when he entered the algebra classroom with a fully loaded rifle. He was tried as an adult and pled insane to all the charges against him, citing “mood swings” as the cause of his actions. The prosecution claimed that Loukaitis planned the shooting in advance, and he was inspired by violent media such as Pearl Jam’s song “Jeremy” and Stephen King’s novel “Rage”

In September 1997 Barry Loukaitis was found guilty on three charges of murder, one charge of attempted murder, and sixteen counts of aggravated kidnapping. He received two life sentences plus an additional sentence of 206 years.

Barry Loukaitis, who started shooting his classmates during a maths lesson in 1996. The fourteen-year-old shot and killed his teacher, Mrs. Caires, along with students Arnold Fritz, Jr. and Manuel Vela. He then took the class hostage, telling them “This sure beats algebra, doesn’t it?”