By Wishelle Banks
SPARKS, Nevada (Reuters) - A popular math teacher shot dead by a 12-year-old boy at a Nevada middle school was praised as a hero on Tuesday, a day after he was gunned down when he stepped into the shooter's line of fire, giving students time to flee to safety.
The boy, armed with a gun police said he likely took from home, opened fire on the schoolyard on Monday, killing the teacher and wounding two other 12-year-olds just before the opening bell at the school in the northern Nevada town of Sparks.
As police seek to determine a motive, they are also hailing the actions of slain teacher Michael Landsberry and say more students could have been hurt if staff members had not rushed children into classrooms from the school yard.
The head of the school district's police force said that, after the attacker shot a 12-year-old boy in the shoulder, Landsberry "calmly walked toward the shooter, putting his hands up in a motion to try to stop" him and was shot in the chest.
"Mr. Landsberry's heroic actions by stepping toward the shooter allowed time for other students on the playground area to flee the area," said Washoe County School District Police Chief Mike Mieras.
The boy shot the teacher to death on a basketball court, according to Sparks deputy police chief Tom Miller. Afterward, he shot another student in the abdomen before walking away and shooting himself in the head.
Landsberry, 45, was a former Marine who also served in the Nevada Air National Guard, had taught at Sparks Middle School since 2006 and coached basketball, volleyball and soccer teams, Mieras said.
The incident was the latest in a string of shooting rampages across the United States in recent years, including one in December at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 20 students and six adults and helped reignite a national debate over gun control.
The two 12-year-old boys wounded in the shooting in Sparks, located just east of Reno near the California border, were rushed to a Reno hospital and their conditions are not life-threatening, officials said.
Police have so far not identified the young shooter, although they have said he used a Ruger 9mm semi-automatic handgun in the shooting.
"We believe that the student got it from his residence," Miller said, adding that the parents could potentially face charges for not preventing the boy from making off with the gun.
"That is basically a question for the local prosecutor, but the potential is there."
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Andre Grenon)