In an incident with echoes of last week's rampage in Littleton, Colorado, one student was shot dead and one critically wounded at W.R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta at lunchtime on Wednesday.

Witnesses say the shooting in Taber was carried out by a Grade 9 dropout from the victims' school who was wearing a dark blue trenchcoat.

According to students at the school, the shooting suspect, who has not been identified, was "not very popular," and was the subject of teasing and name-calling.

"He said he's been really distressed," Matt Anderson, a student, said of the reported gunman. "He didn't have many friends."

The two male students were reportedly shot with a .22-calibre weapon. The suspected gunman is in police custody. The name of the suspect, and the names of the shooting victims, both of whom were in the eleventh grade, have not yet been released.

In a written statement, Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he was "shocked" by the shooting. "The senselessness of this act of violence makes it even more painful and all the more difficult to accept and and comprehend."

Taber is about two-and-a-half-hour's drive southeast of Calgary, between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. It is an agricultural service centre with a population of about 6,000.

The shooting came a week after two members of a high school outcast group called the "trenchcoat mafia" terrorized Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, resulting in the deaths of 15 people.

It seemed impossible such a massacre could happen in a place like Taber.

"I never thought it could happen," Anderson said. "I thought, 'Colorado's far away,'"

The Littleton shooting has had a powerful impact across North America. In the U.S., police in several towns have reported foiling attempts to emulate the actions of the Trenchcoat Mafia.

In the town of Lancaster, California on Wednesday, three teenage boys were arrested shortly before they allegedly planned to blow up their high school. According to police, they planned to use homemade bombs and a hand grenade.

In Los Angeles, goth rocker Marilyn Manson announced he was postponing a coast-to-coast concert tour in response to the Littleton shooting. In a statement, Manson lashed out at media coverage of teenage outcasts.

"I hope the media's irresponsible finger-pointing doesn't create more discrimination against kids who look different," Manson said.