Image from a school shooting at Sparks Middle School on Monday morning, Oct. 21 2013.
SPARKS, Nev. (USA TODAY) -- A Nevada middle school student shot and killed a teacher and wounded two students Monday before fatally shooting himself in the nation's latest horrific act of school violence.
Police said the teacher died trying to protect students.
"We've got video we have to review, people we've got to talk to," said Tom Robinson, deputy chief of Reno police. "But in my estimation, he is a hero. We do know he was trying to intervene."
The Reno Gazette-Journal said the victim, 45-year-old Michael Landsberry, was also a member of the Nevada Army National Guard. Landsberry was a popular math teacher at Sparks Middle School, the Journal said.
Chanda Landsberry said her brother-in-law, who received bachelor's degree in Education from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2001, loved teaching.
"He loved his school kids. He loved the Guard," she said. "It defined him."
Eighth-grader Kyle Nucum, 13, said he was on an outside basketball court when the shooting happened about 7:15 a.m. local time.
"We heard a pop, like a loud pop, and everybody was screaming and the teacher came to investigate," Kyle said. "I thought it was a firecracker at first, but the student was pointing a gun at the teacher. After the teacher told him to put it down, and the student fired a shot ... at the teacher and the teacher fell and everybody ran away."
Kyle said he and other students heard four or five more shots as they ran across a field, where a woman let them into her home.
Student Michelle Hernandez said she saw the shooter Monday morning. "I heard him saying, 'Why you people making fun of me, why you laughing at me,?" Michelle said.
Eighth-grader Seth Hinchberger said the shooter "pulled out a weapon and just shot it. And scared all of us and we just started running."
Seth said they ran into a hall and created a pile, "guys in the front ... for the safety of the girls." He said the shooter came over and appeared to aim at the pile, but was distracted by a teacher and started shooting in another direction.
Landsberry's students shared the pain of his loss in an outpouring of heartfelt messages on social media, and shared silly photos of their teacher, showing his playfulness in the classroom.
Michael Landsberry kept a math website to help his students get through each year called "Welcome to Mr. L's Math Class for 2013-2014."
"I have one classroom rule and it is very simple: 'Thou Shall Not Annoy Mr. L,'" the site said. "I am looking forward to getting to know and teach all of you this year. I know that at times the year will be tough and boring but I will do my best to make the lessons exciting."
Some of his students told reporters that Landsberry loved Batman so much that many used the title as his nickname.
Angela Rambo, spokeswoman for Renown Regional Hospital, said the hospital had received two male patients, both minors and both initially in critical condition. Their conditions later were upgraded, one to fair condition, the other to serious condition.
Reno Deputy Police Chief Tom Robinson said 150 to 200 personnel secured the school and the surrounding area. Addressing parents during a press conference, he said "I can tell them to rest assured. The schools are safe. The rest of the city is safe."
Sparks Middle School, in a working-class section of the city of 90,000, has about 700 students in the seventh and eighth grades.
"This is just a very sad day for us, a very tragic day," said Pedro Martinez, the superintendent of the Washoe County School District.
Sparks Mayor Geno Martini praised the emergency response during a press conference Monday.
"The city itself is very safe, this is just an isolated incident," Martini said. "It's very, very tragic, I'm saddened to have to be here."
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement:
"I was deeply saddened to learn of the horrific shooting at Sparks Middle School this morning. My administration is receiving regular updates and the Nevada Highway Patrol is assisting at the scene. Kathleen and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the victims and those affected by these tragic events."
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also released this statement expressing condolences to the victims, their families and everyone at the school.
McAndrew and Duggan report for the Gazette-Journal. Contibuting: Guy Clifton, Steve Timko, Susan Skorupa, Martha Bellisle, Emerson Marcus, Gazette-Journal; John Bacon, USA TODAY; Associated Press.