Gunman Opens Fire At Elementary School; Kills 5, Wounds 30
STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) _ A young drifter wearing combat fatigues opened fire with an assault rifle at screaming children in an elementary school yard Tuesday. Five children, all refugees from Southeast Asia, were killed and 30 people wounded before the gunman shot himself to death.
The gunman, identified as Patrick Edward Purdy, 26, originally of Stockton, had an ″extensive criminal history″ but police had ″no idea″ of a motive, said Lucian Neely, deputy police chief of this agricultural city 60 miles east of San Francisco.
″He was just standing there with a gun, making wide sweeps,″ said Lori Mackey, who teaches deaf children at the Cleveland Elementary School and ran to her window when she heard what she thought were firecrackers.
She said she saw a man standing in the schoolyard, spraying gunfire back and forth from a Russian AK-47 assault rifle as 400-500 pupils from grades 1-3 played at recess. She said when she realized what was happening, she took her 10 students into a rear room where they couldn’t be seen.
″He was not talking, he was not yelling, he was very straight-faced, it did not look like he was really angry, it was just matter-of-factly,″ she said of the gunman, whom she described as about 5-10 with short dirty-blond hair.
″There was mass chaos. There were kids running in every direction,″ she said.
Purdy, also known as Patrick West, had lived most recently in Lodi, about 15 miles northeast of here. Prior to that he lived in Sandy, Ore., where he purchased an AK-47 from the Sandy Trading Post on Aug. 3., said Sandy Police Chief Fred Punzel.
Purdy’s criminal record was mostly in the Los Angeles area and included narcotics and weapons violations and soliciting for sex, Neely said.
Punzel said Purdy had lived with an aunt and uncle in Sandy for several months until October and the aunt, Julie Michael, ″told me he was a loner and as a child he was an alcoholic.″ He said Purdy also had apparently been living in Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and Connecticut since leaving Oregon.
The gunman, dressed in battle gear and wearing a flak jacket, parked his car near the school, then set it on fire as a diversion before entering the campus through a gap in a fence at about 11:40 a.m. PST with two handguns and an AK-47 ″with a full banana clip,″ police said.
He opened fire on the west side of a group of portable classrooms, then moved to the east side and continued firing across the blacktop yard, towards the main buildings about 250 yards away, Neely said. Purdy was no closer than that when he shot himself in the head, Neely said.
About 60 rounds were fired; in some cases, the bullets went completely through the main school building and came out the other side to fall spent on the L-shaped school’s front lawn, Neely said.
As police cleaned up the carnage, a large handgun and the AK-47 were seen lying on the ground near a pool of blood. Written on the pistol’s handle was the word ″Victory.″
Bruce Fernandes, a spokesman for the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services, said five pupils were killed and 29 wounded in the schoolyard. A teacher was also shot.
Neely said two of the dead children were dragged inside the school by teachers. At least 15 of the wounded were in critical condition, he said.
Neely said the dead children all belonged to refugee families from Southeast Asia. He identified them as Raphanar Or, 9; Ram Chun, 8; Thuy Tran, 6; Sokhim An, 6; and Oeun Lim, 8. Thuy Tran was from Vietnam, the others from Cambodia. Officials said about 60 percent of the pupils at the school were from Southeast Asian refugee families.
Three of the children were slain in the yard, and the two others inside the school, said Deputy Police Chief Ralph Tribble. He said at least one teacher was injured.
″There were a dozen students lying on the ground. It was very frightening,″ said Cheryl Torres, who rushed to the school where her 11- year-old daughter, LeAnne Sundstrom, is a pupil.
Fernandes said the wounded were evacuated to eight hospitals in the area. Two helicopters and a fleet of ambulances were pressed into service to transport the victims.
Ramon Billedo III, a pupil at the school, described seeing a schoolmate shot.
″I just saw him fall down,″ said Billedo. ″His head hit the ground. The teacher grabbed him and dragged him inside the other classroom.″
″Some kids were outside and some man came over here shooting like crazy. A few kids got shot,″ said Ricardo Rivera, 10, a fifth grader.
″They were shooting at my classroom and at (Rivera’s) classroom at reading time,″ said another pupil, Roberto Costa. ″The bullets were hitting the walls. Everybody got scared.″
Brian Griggs, visiting a friend across from the school when he heard gunfire, ran to the scene.
″When you see bodies lying on a playground, you know it’s, you know...,″ Griggs said, his voice trailing off.
″I tried to get a pulse, couldn’t get a pulse. I was hoping an ambulance would show up. It seemed to take forever.″
The school, about four blocks from the University of Pacific campus, is in a middle-class residential area. Several churches are nearby.
The AK-47 is a Russian design, but Chinese replicas are available in many gun stores for around $300. It is capable of firing about 600 rounds per minute on full automatic.
Lt. Fred Nixon of the Los Angeles Police Department described the AK-47 as a ″military assault rifle. You use it for one purpose and one purpose only - to kill a human being.″
Under federal law, the purchase of a fully automatic rifle or machine gun requires a 4-6 month background check by authorities; however, a semiautomatic rifle can be bought over the counter by completing a standard form stating that the applicant has no criminal record, among other requirements.
Punzel said that the AK-47 and other semiautomatic rifles can be easily converted into automatics.
Other schools across the nation have been the targets for violent attacks in recent years.
Last Sept. 26, a man walked into Oakland Elementary School in Greenwood, S.C., and opened fire with a gun in a crowded cafeteria and in a third-grade classroom. Two 8-year-old girls died, and nine other people were wounded, including two teachers. The gunman, identified by police as Jamie Wilson, 19, of Greenwood, was charged with murder and is awaiting trial.
Last May 20, a young woman named Laurie Dann went on a rampage at Hubbard Woods Elementary school in Winnetka, Ill., killing an 8-year-old boy and wounding five other children. She fled to a nearby home where she wounded one man and then killed herself.