Jose Reyes was a 12-year-old boy living in Sparks, Nevada. His friends said that he loved nothing more than telling jokes but he could never quite get to the punch line before busting out laughing. He worked in his family’s restaurant and with his hard-earned money, he would purchase candy and ice-cream for him and his friends.
Less than ten minutes after Reyes’ mother dropped him off at Sparks Middle School on the 21st of October, 2013, Reyes and a well-loved math teacher, Michael Landsberry, would be dead from gunshot wounds.1
That morning, Reyes had armed himself with his parents’ 9mm Ruger pistol and two magazines of ammunition. Upon entering the basketball courts of Sparks Middle School, Reyes – who was said by witnesses to be crying – opened fire with the semi-automatic handgun.
First, he shot 12-year-old KJ Kersey in the shoulder. Michael Landsberry rushed over and desperately tried to talk Reyes into handing over the weapon, giving other students a chance to flee. Instead, Reyes pointed the weapon at Landsberry and shot him dead. Reyes then turned the gun on 12-year-old Mason Davis who ran to Landsberry’s assistance and shot him in the stomach. Afterwards, Reyes shot himself in the head. Both Kersey and Davis survived their injuries.
The investigation into the shooting painted a grim picture of bullying and depression.
Reyes was troubled by depression and tormented by a school life where he was mocked, teased and mistreated. Just days before the shooting, Reyes’ father took him to a psychotherapist who prescribed him Prozac after he explained that he was being bullied at school. Reyes told the psychotherapist that classmates mercilessly mocked him; he said that they called him “gay” and accused him of wetting his pants.
Police later announced that one of the students who had been shot had teased Reyes about not having muscles during a physical education class and may have had a part in pouring water on him when he was accused of wetting himself. Jose had wrestled with speech problems since a young boy and a numbr of students often called Jose “stupid” and “retarded” because of this. When he was in the hallways, students would poke him and laugh and even steal his lunch money. “Not to be rude, but he was like a nobody,” said Axel Lopez, one of Reyes’ classmates.
Despite the evident mistreatment of Reyes which had been corroborated by numerous other students, Sparks Police Chief Brian Allen said that it didn’t “rise to the level to merit bullying charges.” 2
Following the shooting, Landsberry was remembered in a memorial service for his character and selfless acts in the military and on the basketball court that morning. The former marine was described as a devoted father, husband and teacher, who made the ultimate sacrifice in a bid to save his students “This tragedy is one we’ll all struggle to understand,” said the governor. “What is conclusive is his selfless acts to give his life so others might live … By his actions, he has inspired us all to do all we can for our fellow man.”
Pedro Martinez, superintendent of the Washoe County School District, said that Landsberry could have taken his pick of any school to work at but that he chose one of the Reno area’s highest-poverty middle school because he felt as though those children needed him the most. Landberry’s friends spoke about his passion for Batman, Star Wars and video games, adding that he humbled himself to children and they flocked to him for it. He received full military honors, including a 21-gun salute.3
In the wake of the shooting, it was discovered that Jose had left behind two suicide notes.
In one addressed to “teachers and students” Jose expressed his anger over his belief that he was being embarrassed and mistreated by his fellow classmates. He wrote that he had been called gay, lazy, stupid, an idiot and that money has been stolen from him. “Well that all ends. Today I will get revenge on the students and teachers for ruining my life,” he wrote. “Have a great death at school.” He closed the note with a drawing of a tombstone which read: “Sparks Middle School 1965 – 2013.”
The second note was addressed to his parents. In those note he wrote that the shooting was “not because of the shooting games, the bullying or other stuff,” but because “some bad things in the past cause of me.” He elaborated: “And now I’m just a monster. If you hate me and my family doesn’t love me it’s okay. I know that I’m just an idiot. But I love you and I wish the past would be good and better someday.”
Following the shooting, Joses’ parents said that the gun had been kept in a closet above the fridge and that they didn’t realise Jose had known about the gun. Initially, police said that his parents could be charged if they knowingly made the gun available to him. However, Sparks Police Chief Brian Allen later announced that they wouldn’t be pursuing criminal charges.4
Jose and Liliana Reyes donated $14,000 to an anti-bullying program in a partnership with the school district. They said that they wanted to make Washoe County schools safer. “We don’t want anyone to go through what we went through,” said Jose Reyes Sr. to the Reno Gazette-Journal.
- The Guelph Mercury, 26 October, 2013 – “Nevada City Struggles to Comprehend School Shooting”
- Associated Press, 14 May, 2014 – “Nevada School Shooter Left 2 Suicide Notes”
- Associated Press, 4 November, 2013 – “Teacher Killed in Nevada School Shooting Honored”
- Associated Press, 13 May, 2014 – “No Charges for Parents of Nevada School Shooter”