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Gunman Had Attended School He Assaulted : But Motive Remains Unclear in Attack

January 19, 1989|CARL INGRAM and ROBERT A. JONES | Times Staff Writers

STOCKTON — Patrick Edward Purdy did not come to the grounds of Cleveland Elementary School as a complete stranger. The gunman who raked the school's crowded playground with 110 rounds of rifle fire, killing five children and wounding 29 others and a teacher before taking his own life, had himself completed kindergarten through second grade at Cleveland, officials said Wednesday.

The significance of the discovery was not immediately clear. School records yielded nothing remarkable about Purdy's experience there, only the normal academic promotions and mandatory vaccinations, but the connection did indicate that the midday attack Tuesday was not wholly random.

Purdy, an out-of-work welder who variously listed his age as 24 and 26, left behind no note or coherent explanation of his actions, and he conducted his attack in grim-faced silence.

Detectives seeking to determine Purdy's motive were left Wednesday to pick through his bizarre personal effects and down-and-out past: a collection of toy soldiers arrayed in mock battle throughout Purdy's motel room, symbols scribbled on camouflaged cloth, slogans printed on clothes and weapons, and a drifter's resume of briefly held jobs and obsolete addresses.

"Why he did this we may never know," said Capt. Dennis Perry, head of investigations for the Stockton Police Department. "We can only assume that some problem came up in this guy that made him do it."

For the targets of Purdy's spree, the day after was one of fear and incomprehension. Only 227 pupils, roughly one-fourth of the student body, showed up for classes. Officials had opened the school with the belief that it would be better for the children to deal quickly with their emotions.

Recovery Prospects

Dr. Mary Gonzales Mend, superintendent of the Stockton Unified School District, said it would "take a great deal of time to recover. And we will never recover fully."

All 29 of the wounded students and the one wounded teacher appeared out of danger on Wednesday. A 6-year-old boy was in serious condition and 17 pupils and a teacher were in stable condition. The others were treated at hospitals or at the scene and were released. The psychic wounds will prove more troublesome, teachers feared.

"We're going to have a problem with these kids for a long time," Janet Geng, a Cleveland teacher who had been on yard duty when the shooting started, said Wednesday from her hospital bed at St. Joseph's Medical Center. She had been fleeing to the schoolhouse with a child on each hand when a bullet shattered one of her knees. She expected to die as she lay on the ground and listened to the bullets whistling overhead and tearing into the asphalt beside her.

"To kids," Geng said, "school is a safe place, but I guess it's not anymore. . . . These kids, they are little and they just don't understand."

The children who did attend class Wednesday were greeted by escorts who guided them through a swarm of reporters and cameras. Counselors were stationed in each classroom to help the children come to grips with the horror of the previous day. Each child was given a stuffed animal at the principal's office. Teachers said they did not know what to expect.

"I'll just try to get through the day," said Vicki Braga, who teaches fourth grade.

Floral Bouquets

The front entrance of the school was decorated with bouquets of yellow gladioluses, purple mums and five red roses. Someone had placed there a pink teddy bear with angel's wings. A banner stretched across the front of a neighboring house read: "Racists Are Ugly--Let's Stop Them."

The banner's message enunciated an early suspicion that the racial composition of the student body might have contributed to Purdy's motivation. More than 600 of the 980 students are the sons and daughters of refugees from Southeast Asia.

Police, however, said there was as yet no evidence that race played a role.

"Whether he had some feelings against the Southeast Asian community as a whole, we haven't determined that," Perry said. ". . . I understand in some conversations he spoke about Vietnam, but he's obviously too young to have gone to Vietnam."

Jim Mickelsen, a 21-year-old welder who came to know Purdy last year when the men worked together for a month, had heard Purdy complain about the high percentage of Southeast Asian refugees in industrial arts courses he was taking at San Joaquin Delta College here.

"He didn't like the idea of jobs being taken away," Mickelsen said of Purdy, "and he didn't like having to compete with them in classes."

Mickelsen, however, said the resentment expressed by Purdy was common among the outnumbered white students in the classes, and he found it inconceivable that Purdy's discontent with the Southeast Asian refugees was strong enough to promote the carnage of Tuesday.

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