CLOVIS, N.M. (AP) — The teenager suspected of killing two people and injuring four others in a public library had been searching for “inner peace” shortly before the shooting, the youth’s pastor said.
Nathaniel Jouett, 16, started attending Living Word Church of God three months ago and appeared to be turning his life around after having contemplated suicide several months earlier, Pastor David Stevens said.
Jouett is now awaiting charges for Monday’s deadly rampage. Authorities say their work has only begun as they talk to his family and friends and comb through social media posts looking for clues as to what may have prompted the violence.
Police on Tuesday confirmed that the young suspect who was seen being led in handcuffs from the Clovis-Carver Public Library after Monday’s shooting was Jouett, a student at Clovis High School. “It’s just more than we can comprehend. I don’t know what happened,” Stevens said. “His mind had to snap. I don’t know any other way to explain it. He was a good kid. He had straightened his life out.”
Authorities plan to charge Jouett with two counts of first-degree murder, four counts of assault with intent to commit a violent felony, four counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and one count of child abuse, Police Chief Douglas Ford said.
The Associated Press generally does not identify juveniles accused of crimes. But it is identifying Jouett because of the seriousness of the crime and because authorities said they plan to file a motion requesting the case’s transfer from the juvenile system to adult court.
There’s no indication Jouett knew the victims, and authorities have yet to determine a motive. They also are investigating where he obtained the two handguns believed to have been used in the shooting.
Clovis Mayor David Lansford said the initial shock that reverberated through the community is beginning to wane, only to be replaced by heartbreak and a call for answers. “It’s such a senseless tragedy, and there really isn’t a reason for it,” Lansford told reporters Tuesday. “I think when it’s all said and done, you can come up with a lot of explanations. But I don’t think anyone will ever be able to put a reason on why these kinds of things happen.”
Jouett was a sophomore at Clovis High School and appeared to be doing well after a troubled period, Stevens said. The pastor said Jouett’s father had started coming to church with him. The pastor said Jouett, who was dating his daughter, was on a two-day suspension because of a fight at school when the shooting happened. Jouett had said he fought back after another boy hit him, but there was nothing to indicate the suspect was overly upset about it, Stevens said.
The boy about two weeks ago helped Stevens’ congregation sell popcorn at the county fair to raise money for a youth camp. On Sunday, the day before the shooting, Jouett had an anxiety attack while at church so the pastor said his daughter took him home. He ended up returning for the evening service and spent time later talking and playing video games with the girl.
The teens talked twice on Monday, but the pastor said there were no warnings. The teen, Stevens said, was not known to be a regular at the library. It was unclear how many people were in the library when the shooting started. Police stormed the building with their guns drawn and found Jouett, who immediately surrendered.
Witnesses have said the shooter seemed to fire randomly as parents, children and others hid under tables or behind closed doors. The two workers killed were circulation assistant Wanda Walters, 61, and youth services librarian Kristina Carter, 48.
Another circulation assistant, Jessica Thron, 30, was injured and authorities identified the wounded library patrons as 10-year Noah Molina, his 20-year-old sister Alexis Molina and 53-year-old Howard Jones.
The three adults were in serious condition, and the boy was in stable condition Tuesday at University Medical Center in Texas, across the state line from Clovis, chief medical officer Mike Ragain said.
Library patron Nessa Aguirre said in an interview that she and her 11-year-old son were at the circulation desk when they heard a popping sound. “I looked over and this guy shot into the ceiling, then in every direction,” she said. “I put my son in front of me, bent down and slid across the front circulation desk.”
After hiding in an office and being led by a library worker to a hallway, Aguirre and her son found a door and fled. Her husband, Lupe Aguirre, went inside to search for his family when he heard the shots. He saw smoke clearing from gunfire and shell casings on the floor before he was confronted by the gunman.
“He was happy,” Lupe Aguirre told the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/2wQkPGS). “He was just laughing, smiling the whole time until he came up real close to me, and then he put on that mean look.” The gunman ordered Aguirre to get on the ground. As Aguirre kneeled, he told the shooter someone was looking for him in an attempt to distract him.
Aguirre told the newspaper the shooter then turned around, saw a mother and child on the floor and told them to stay there or he would kill them. Then the shooter walked away in the direction that Aguirre had pointed, he said.
Gov. Susana Martinez called the attack horrific and asked for New Mexicans to share their strength and support as Clovis recovers. She also visited the wounded victims in Lubbock on Tuesday.