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Santee Usually a Quiet Suburb

March 6, 2001

SANTEE, Calif. (AP) _ This San Diego suburb, the site of a deadly school shooting Monday, is a tidy bedroom community of 58,000, an overwhelmingly white, middle-class suburb.

``We’re a town of Little League, a town of soccer,″ said Mayor Randy Voepel, who’s been on the job just nine weeks. ``If I was mayor for 900 years it would not prepare me for this moment.″

A 15-year-old freshman at Santana High School is accused of opening fire on his classmates, killing two and injuring 13.

Until Monday’s shooting, a point of community pride was the crime rate _ among the lowest in California.

``Santee is usually boring,″ said Matthew Martin, a 17-year-old senior. ``I guess you can say we’ve been martyred.″

The city lies 20 miles northeast of San Diego. Carved out of ranchland, it benefited from the post-World War II Sun Belt housing boom. Its population exploded between 1950 and 1970, and it was incorporated as a city in December 1980.

Nestled in brown, rocky foothills, it is the 10th-largest city in San Diego County, although about half of its land remains undeveloped.

Santana High, which opened in 1965, has 1,900 students in grades nine through 12. It’s more than 82 percent white. Just 14 percent of its students were poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches last year.

Alumni include 1972 graduate Sharon Ryer Davis, the wife of Gov. Gray Davis.

The growing community has struggled with racial tensions. In 1998, a black Marine was beaten by five white men at a party in Santee and was left paralyzed. The attack sparked soul-searching and rallies in the community.

In January, the mayor and city officials met with about 200 residents at the school to discuss complaints of racial incidents on campus.

A black student told the gathering that she felt like a ``foreigner″ and was the target of racial slurs on her way to school.

There was no indication that Monday’s shooting was racially motivated.

The school has a dress code that bars clothing with images representing gangs or racist groups and, overall, student problems are rare. During the 1998-99 school year, there were 171 suspensions and one expulsion.

``Nothing ever happens here,″ said Steve DiBello, a 17-year-old senior. ``Fights don’t even usually happen at our school,″

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