Michael Landsberry, who served in the Nevada Air National Guard after leaving the Marines, was shot to death in October by a student at the middle school where he worked. (The Associated Press / via Nevada Air National Gua)
There is an old saying in the military that Marines run to the sound of the guns.
It characterizes the Corps and Michael Landsberry, the Sparks Middle School teacher, Marine Corps veteran and Nevada Air National Guard master sergeant who ran into harm’s way when a 12-year-old student armed with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun opened fire on the school’s campus on Oct. 21.
Landsberry, 45, died from a gunshot to the chest. Two students were wounded before the shooter took his own life. Eyewitness reports and the subsequent investigation showed Landsberry put himself in danger to protect students that day.
“Mr. Landsberry’s heroic actions, by stepping toward the shooter, allowed time for other students in the playground area to flee,” Washoe County School District Police Chief Mike Mieras said.
For his actions, his service and his enduring example, Michael Landsberry is being posthumously recognized as the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Citizen of the Year for 2013. The RGJ asked readers to submit nominations for the award, and Landsberry was the overwhelming choice.
“By any standard, he was a true Nevadan, a giant among us, the best that we can do,” Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said at Landsberry’s memorial service on Nov. 3.
Landsberry enlisted in the Marines after graduating in 1986 from McQueen High School. He left the service in 1994 and returned to Reno, earning degrees from Truckee Meadows Community College and the University of Nevada, Reno.
He went to work for the Washoe County School District and also enlisted in the Nevada Air National Guard in 2001.
His guard service included deployments to Kuwait and Afghanistan, and his military career included more than 20 awards and decorations.
He joined the staff at Sparks Middle School in 2006, teaching math and coaching several boys and girls sports at the middle school and high school levels.
Sadly, it was only after his death that the community at large learned what his family, friends, colleagues, students and players knew all along — that Landsberry was a man always there to help, always there to offer his love and always there for support.
As news of his death spread, social media sites were flooded with tributes from former students and colleagues.
“Mr. Landsberry was the only one who told me that I was able to do it ... who actually tried his best to help me pass my math class, the one who had patience for me ... the one who believed in me,” Vanesa Vazquez Jimenez wrote on Facebook.
And in the ensuing days, friends and family painted a picture of a man of great humor with a bit of a geeky side when it came to “Batman” and “Star Wars.”
At a McQueen High School football game four days after the incident, Tom Gordon, who had attended McQueen with Landsberry before graduating in 1986, spoke during the ceremony, saying, “With all this talk of Mike being a hero, our first reaction is, ‘Duh.’ We’ve known that for 31 years. We’re just sorry this is how you found out about it.”
In early December, the Nevada Department of Education announced it would name the state Teacher of the Year award in Landsberry’s honor.
At a memorial vigil at Sparks Marina, fellow teacher Jerry Miller said Landsberry, with his shaved head and goatee, maybe didn’t look “like a relationship kind of guy.
“But inside, he was a big ball of compassion. And his students got it. They knew Michael Landsberry was there for them.”
His widow, Sharon, at the Nov. 3 memorial service, said Landsberry was a husband who treated his stepdaughters, Andrea and Alisa, as his own and cried the first time one of them called him “Dad.”
“He was an easy man to love,” Sharon Landsberry said. “Mike always told me that his only job is to make me happy, and he did that 100 percent every day.”