"It's going to be very different." A fatal school shooting in a small Northwest town

Sep 14, 2017
Originally published on September 13, 2017 10:50 pm

After she set her books down in a biology classroom Wednesday morning Kelby Cochrane got hungry. So she asked a friend to go with her to her locker at Freeman High School in Freeman, Washington to grab a snack. On her way back she heard what she later learned were gunshots allegedly fired by schoolmate Caleb Sharpe.

“It sounded like a paper bag popping or a balloon like when they screw off in lunch or something," Cochrane said. "Then I heard two more and I pulled her into the classroom.”

The gunshots Cochrane heard were fatal for her friend Sam Strahan.

Cochrane remembers a time Strahan had tomato soup for lunch.

“He didn’t grab a spoon; he grabbed a fork. And so he sat there and at the whole bowl of soup with a fork," Cochrane said. "Later that day I was scrolling on some kind of social media, and I found a quote that said, 'life is a bowl of soup and I’m a fork.'" So she sent it to him.

The way Cochrane tells it, Strahan was a funny sophomore who had his own teenage struggles, including the death of his father this year on Father’s Day.

Three other students were injured in the shooting. Sharpe is in juvenile detention.

As the wounded recovered in a Spokane hospital people gathered for vigils in and around the city, including a small gathering at Spokane’s St. John's Cathedral, where clergy members led roughly 30 people in prayer and made themselves available all evening.

"It's like family here"

Freeman High School is situated next door to a middle school and an elementary school, all three set against the pastoral backdrop of rolling hills and wide-open skies. This is where the grasslands of the Palouse meet the tall pines of northeastern Washington.

Kurt Bergen and his brother Brandon were supposed to be across the Washington-Idaho border in Coeur D’Alene on business. Instead, they dropped everything to rush to their old high school.

"It’s like family here, which is why I am here, because I just feel very connected to the community," Bergen said.

As he was talking he spotted a friend who’s still in high school at Freeman out on the highway and called him over.

“That’s how weird Freeman is," Bergen said, reflecting on the closeness that compelled him to cancel his plans and head for his alma mater.

"I hang out with this kid," Bergen said. "He was my reading buddy when he was in fourth grade and I was a senior in high school."

The two shared a long hug.

Families reunite

The hug is an example of the kind of support Christy Cochrane says she and daughter Kelby have experienced here.

“Everybody just picks up and pitches in,” Christy Cochrane said.

She stood against her car with her daughters in the late afternoon sun. She had to wait nearly the whole school day to see her kids safe. The family had planned to spend the evening at the county fair, but instead they were discussing whether or not they should get together with their neighbors.

Christy partly jokes that the town is so small and so close, that Kelby couldn’t even keep her new boyfriend a secret.

They shared a chuckle over that, after a long day of fear, and tears, and waiting.

Soon, it will be time to go back to school. But not yet.

"I imagine they wouldn’t have it tomorrow," Kelby said. "I would hope they wouldn’t have it tomorrow. But I know it’s going to be very different because I had a majority of my classes with Sam."

Classes in the Freeman school district are cancelled Thursday.

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