(Reuters) - Authorities were seeking a motive on Saturday as to why a high school student in the United States' Washington state shot dead a female classmate and wounded four others in a campus cafeteria before killing himself.
The shooter, a homecoming prince at Marysville-Pilchuck High School north of Seattle, took his own life as his classmates fled to safety.
The incident was the latest in a series of deadly shooting rampages at U.S. schools that have played a central role in a national debate over gun laws.
A school district official, who declined to be named, identified the shooter as Jaylen Fryberg, a freshman described by classmates and parents as a popular member of both the wrestling and football teams.
"He came up from behind and had a gun in his hand and he fired about eight bullets...They were his friends so it wasn't just random," student Jordan Luton told CNN.
"Then he turned and looked at me and my girlfriend...and kind of gave us a smirk and turned around and then shot more bullets outside," Luton said.
All of the victims of the shooting were under 18, and three were in critical condition with gunshot wounds to the head, said Joanne Roberts, chief of medicine at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. The fourth wounded victim suffered less serious injuries.
Two of the wounded were boys and two were girls, hospital officials said. The boys, 15-year-old Andrew Fryberg, shot in the head, and 14-year-old Nate Hatch, shot in the jaw, were both in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Friday night, a spokeswoman said.
Local media reported the boys were cousins of the shooter.
Police would not confirm the gunman's identity or discuss possible motives for the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation.
But a school official and several witnesses said he had been involved in a fight with another student. And a friend of one of the victims said he had been recently rejected by a female classmate.
SEARCH FOR A MOTIVE
At Marysville's The Grove Church, hundreds of parents, students and community members packed the aisles during a vigil on Friday evening, holding flowers and crying throughout a prayer service.
Outside the vigil, 9th grader Bella Panjeli said she attended a different school but was friends with one of the female victims, calling her "a beautiful girl and so, so sweet."
She also said Fryberg was in an ongoing dispute with his cousin over the victim's affections.
"I heard he asked her out and she rebuffed him and was with his cousin," Panjeli said, adding that she learned of the connection after talking to the victim's family and friends. "It was a fight over a girl."
Two parents of students at the school said an altercation broke out on an athletic field following football practice in recent days, adding that one boy involved was among those shot.
Students who knew Fryberg described him as outgoing and unlike the loner personality that is often associated with school shootings.
There were no indications on his social media accounts that he had been planning such a rampage, but on Tuesday he posted his feelings of despondency, apparently over a romantic split, on Twitter.
"It breaks me...It actually does...I know it seems like I'm sweating it off... But I'm not.. And I never will be able to," he wrote.
Police would not say what kind of weapon Fryberg had used, but an Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives official told reporters the gun had been legally acquired. U.S. media reported the weapon was a .40-caliber Beretta handgun.
In 2012, a 20-year-old gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 children and six adults before taking his own life in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
(Writing by Curtis Skinner)