Teacher a hero in student gun standoffMike Rapatz is the one of the heroes in the story of the hour this week, with students, parents and the community. But, he seems a little shy about it.
By: By Bonnie St. James , Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
HASTINGS, Minn. — Mike Rapatz is the one of the heroes in the story of the hour this week, with students, parents and the community. But, he seems a little shy about it.
In what could have been an explosive situation, one in which a student entered his classroom with a handgun, Rapatz kept his head and seemingly calmed the student down. He was firm, and he tried to be supportive of the needs of both the student with the gun and the students in his classroom.
“You can’t really prepare,” he said at a press conference Tuesday. “I just reacted the best way I could.”
Rapatz has spent 20 years in a middle school classroom, working with students of all kinds.
Asked to tell the story, Rapatz did, quietly, without embellishment — just the plain truth as he saw it.
“I was just beginning the class,” he said. “And the student entered the classroom. He had a handgun — he wasn’t really pointing it at any one person, just round the classroom.”
Staying calm and trying to diffuse the situation was his objective in dealing with the student, Rapatz said.
The student, he said, told everyone to get on the floor.
“I told the student to stay calm, and then I asked him, ‘What do you need? How can I help you?’” Rapatz said.
The student repeated the command for everyone to get down on the floor, and again Rapatz asked what he could do to help.
“He turned and walked out,” Rapatz said. “I called to the office and told them we needed a lockdown. And then we got in lockdown positions.”
A few minutes later, the scene repeated itself.
“He returned and knocked really hard on the door,” Rapatz said. “Then he broke the glass by the door and opened the door.”
Rapatz walked to the front of the classroom.
“I told him, ‘You’re not going to come any further,’” Rapatz said. “How can I help you?” he again asked the student.
And again, the student walked out.
Asked how he felt after he knew the student with the gun, a student from his science class, had been apprehended, Rapatz said it “felt good.”
“No one was harmed,” he said. “And I wasn’t too shaken.”
And how does it feel to be called a hero?
“It makes you feel good,” Rapatz said. “I reacted the way I should given the situation. All we ended up with is broken glass and shaken spirits.
“I just tried to remain calm, tried to keep him (the student with the gun) calm, and tried to diffuse the situation.”
Rapatz gave much of the credit for the outcome to others.
“I’m proud and glad — for the way the students, police, staff and the community, for the way they acted,” he said.
And yes, he was back in his classroom Wednesday.
Others had taken the measure of this man, too, and recognized that Rapatz reacted in a remarkable way.
Hastings Middle School Principal Mark Zuzek considers his friend of 20-plus years a hero as well.
“I have known Mike Rapatz for 20 years, and he is an amazing person,” Zuzek said. “Although it was impossible for anyone to anticipate the events of the day, he is the most well-suited person I know to deal with a child in crisis. Mike has a level of trust and respect from all students that is remarkable. It is impossible to imagine how he was able to remain so very calm in the face of such a stressful event.
“I am deeply grateful for Mike Rapatz’ clear thinking, calm demeanor, and strong relationships with children.”
Ditto, say his students.
His fourth-period students brought him a card Tuesday, thanking him “for saving them.” Only two students weren’t in his classroom Tuesday.
Eighth-grader Austin LaDoux was in the classroom when Rapatz confronted the student with a gun. He said most of the students were calm during the incident.
“I think we all stayed calm because our teacher (Rapatz) was calm,” Austin said.
Austin said at first he thought it was a drill, but when he looked into his teacher’s eyes, he “knew it wasn’t a drill.”
Christine Christiansen was also in that classroom, and she called Rapatz “an awesome teacher.”
“He’s a good teacher,” she said. “An awesome teacher. When we’ve got homework, he doesn’t take points away the first day if we haven’t got it done. He’s pretty lenient.”
Now she thinks he’s not only an awesome teacher, but a hero as well.
“He handled it really well,” Christine said. “He was kind of shaken up after (it was all over), but he was still calm. And he was good at keeping the kids calm. I just wanted to go up and give him the biggest bear hug today.
“I think he was the bravest one there. Mr. Rapatz had no warning, and he just dealt with it. Our counselors told us that Mr. Rapatz kept Joey from being infuriated and angry.”
Asked in an interview if Rapatz was following protocol in dealing with the student with a gun, District 200 Superintendent Tim Collins replied that he didn’t know that it was exactly “protocol,” but that Rapatz had quickly assessed the situation and did the right things to keep the situation from getting worse.
In a letter to parents, Collins wrote “Our staff and students handled the situation with professionalism, and a sense of calm, that I can’t explain to anyone who was not involved.”
Bonnie St. James is a reporter at the Hastings (Minn.) Star-Gazette, which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.