"All I ever heard about him was good things from my son," Montes said. "He wasn't Mr. Popularity, but he was a smart kid. It's a shame. My kid said he was like a genius. It's a shame because he could have made something of himself."
The wounded student was flown to a hospital in Bakersfield and was listed in stable but critical condition Thursday evening. Officials said a female student was hospitalized with possible hearing damage because the shotgun was fired close to her ear, and another girl suffered minor injuries during the scramble to flee when she fell over a table.
Officials said there's usually an armed officer on campus, but the person wasn't there because he was snowed in. Taft police officers arrived within 60 seconds of first reports.
Bakersfield television station KERO reported receiving phone calls from people inside the school who hid in closets. About 900 students are enrolled at the high school, which includes ninth through 12th grades.
Wilhelmina Reum, whose daughter Alexis Singleton is a fourth-grader at a nearby elementary school, got word of the attack while she was about 35 miles away in Bakersfield and immediately sped back to Taft.
"I just kept thinking this can't be happening in my little town," she told The Associated Press.
"I was afraid I was going to get hurt," Alexis said. "I just wanted my mom to get here so I could go home."
Taft is a community of fewer than 10,000 people amid oil and natural gas production fields about 120 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
The attack there came less than a month after a gunman massacred 20 children and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., then killed himself.
That shooting prompted President Barack Obama to promise new efforts to curb gun violence. Vice President Joe Biden, who was placed in charge of the initiative, said he would deliver new policy proposals to the president by next week.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement that her father had attended Taft Union and she has visited the school over the years.
"At this moment my thoughts and prayers are with the victims, and I wish them a speedy recovery," Feinstein said. "But how many more shootings must there be in America before we come to the realization that guns and grievances do not belong together?"
Associated Press writers Robert Jablon and John Antczak in Los Angeles, and Juliet Williams in Sacramento contributed to this report.