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Tiffany Moreland and her daughter Emily Moreland attend a prayer vigil for students killed and injured after a 15-year-old boy opened fire with a handgun at Marshall County High School, at Life in Christ Church in Marion, Kentucky. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

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(Reuters) - Investigators in western Kentucky on Wednesday were probing why a 15-year-old boy opened fire in a high school, killing two students and injuring 18 others in the latest in a series of deadly shootings in American schools.

Police have not yet identified the gunman or released any information about what motivated the Tuesday morning attack in Marshall County High School in Benton, Kentucky, about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Nashville.

The suspect, who police said was arrested without a struggle, was due to appear in court by Thursday and could be charged as an adult, according to Marshall County Attorney Jeff Edwards.

He will be charged with two counts of murder and multiple counts of attempted murder, according to the Kentucky State Police, who said they believe he acted alone.

All classes were cancelled in the Marshall County School system on Wednesday as the community struggled to understand the incident.

"A tragedy beyond words occurred in our community today," school superintendent Trent Lovett said in a statement late Tuesday. "As parents, our greatest fear is something happening to our children, and today that fear became a reality."

The suspect on Tuesday entered a common area at the school, pulled out a handgun and began firing at students, state police said in a statement.

"About the time it registered, this guy was sitting here pulling the trigger into all of us," student Bryson Conkwright told TV station WKRN on Tuesday. "I can hear the gunshots. He was shooting in our group."

The attack at the school of nearly 1,150 students in a small farming town was the latest outbreak of gun violence that has become a regular occurrence at schools and college campuses across the United States over the past several years.

The students killed were Bailey Hope, a 15-year-old girl who was pronounced dead at the scene, and Preston Cope, a 15-year-old boy who died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, state police said.

Five female and 13 male students ranging from ages 14 to 18 were also injured. Sixteen of the injuries were from gunshot wounds. The remaining four teenagers suffered other sorts of injuries in the panic.

Hospital officials said they expected all those wounded to survive.

Television actress Haley Strode, a Kentucky native, expressed shock.

"Devastated to hear about the fatal school shooting in my home state. Heartbroken," Strode said on Twitter. "Is nothing sacred any longer?"

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)

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Reuters