Suspect In LA School Shooting Could Face Charges

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High school students leave Gardena High School in Gardena, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011, at the end of the school day. A gun in a 10th-grader's backpack discharged Tuesday when he dropped the bag, wounding two students at the school, including one who remained in critical condition, police said. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LOS ANGELES — A gun in a 10th grader’s backpack went off Tuesday when he dropped the bag, wounding two students at his high school, police said.

The 17-year-old could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon and other charges, said police Capt. Bill Hayes.

Hayes said it’s “plausible” that the shooting was an accident, but that the boy was negligent to bring a loaded handgun to Gardena High School, a sprawling 1950s-era school with courtyards and rows of barracks-like classrooms.

John Deasy, incoming superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said there was no indication the student with the backpack had touched the gun before it discharged.

“He literally dropped his knapsack on the desk, and it went off,” Deasy said.

Deputy police chief Patrick Gannon said the student apologized before running to another classroom. “He said, ‘I’m sorry,’ when the gun went off. It made it appear to the teacher that it was an accident,” he said.

Detectives were trying to figure out where the boy got the 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, which was recovered.

He remained held at a juvenile detention center after police interviewed him and his mother, Hayes said.

Two 15-year-olds were struck with the same bullet, Gannon said.

A girl suffered a skull fracture and bruising to the brain and developed a significant blood clot when the bullet grazed her skull, said Dr. James Ausman, a neurosurgeon at Los Angeles County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

The blood clot was removed, but the girl remained in critical condition. A boy was in fair condition after being shot in the neck.

The teen suspect was on probation for a fight at school last year, Hayes said.

The shooting occurred in a classroom at the school, where Principal Rudy Mendoza said students were on a break. The 2,400-student campus about 15 miles south of downtown Los Angeles was locked down after the incident.

Shedric Porter, 14, said he was walking past the classroom at the time.

“I didn’t see anything, but I heard the shot, and it was really loud,” he said. “I stopped. I was scared. Then I thought it was just a book or something hitting the ground, but it was too loud for that.”

Semaj Elan, a student, was in an adjacent classroom at the time. “My friend came up to me in the classroom talking about how she almost got shot. They’re gonna be traumatized by that,” Elan said.

It was unclear how the student got in with the gun in his backpack, Pollard-Terry said. Arriving students are checked with security wands on a random basis at Gardena High, she said.

No district school is equipped with walkthrough metal detectors.

Deasy apologized to parents, who complained that the district’s automated parent notification system, which issues text message or phone calls in campus emergencies, didn’t tell them about the shooting.

Frantic parents rushed to the school after hearing about the shooting, pacing nervously as they waited behind police tapes for word from their children. Nelda Robledo, one of the worried parents who gathered near the school, said her 16-year-old daughter texted her that students were ordered to get down on the ground or hide in a corner after the shooting.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this before,” said Thomas Hill, whose 16-year-old and 18-year-old children attend the school.

Discipline long has been a problem at Gardena, which ranks as one of the district’s lowest-performing high schools. Roughly 35 percent of students drop out.

Five years ago, more than 2,000 students were suspended, and 15 students were expelled. Those figures remained high until last year when the number of suspensions dropped to 300 and expulsions to two.

The school also was the scene of a shooting in February 2002, when three assailants tried to hold up two students in an outdoor area. Two students were shot.

In the past five years, two students have been expelled for firearms violations at Gardena High.

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