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Escalating Hate Reportedly Consumed Gunman

January 20, 1989|DAN MORAIN and LOUIS SAHAGUN | Times Staff Writers

STOCKTON — Patrick Edward Purdy, who this week attacked a school playground with a military rifle, killing five Southeast Asian refugee children and himself, was consumed by an indiscriminate and apparently escalating hatred for all people, police officials and others familiar with the troubled young drifter said Thursday.

While Purdy was known to make surly comments about the Southeast Asian refugees flooding into this San Joaquin Valley town, a police investigator said it appeared race played no role in Purdy's selection of targets for his Tuesday attack in which 30 people were wounded.

"Through his lifetime, Mr. Purdy developed a hatred for everybody," Capt. Dennis Perry, head of investigations for the Stockton Police Department, said Thursday. " . . . Whoever he happened to be talking about, he didn't like. He disliked not just one race, but all races."

Perry said Purdy had "problems" with abuse of alcohol and marijuana. Court records indicated that Purdy twice attempted suicide in 1987 after being jailed for firing a pistol in the woods near Lake Tahoe. Found among his possessions then was a racist manual on guns and killing, and a psychological counselor described Purdy as "a hazard to himself and others."

At Cleveland Elementary School, where the counselor's prophecy was realized Tuesday in Purdy's apocalyptic, four-minute attack, children were being guided gently through the psychic trauma. Officials said 674 of the school's 940 students were back in class Thursday, still isolated from most outsiders and undergoing grief counseling by more than 100 doctors, psychologists and therapists.

School official John Klose likened the atmosphere at Cleveland Elementary to an "emergency room."

"We have some healing going on," he said.

Investigators hold out little hope of pinpointing what provoked Purdy's assault on the school, which he attended from kindergarten through second grade.

"We'll never know everything because he didn't leave us a message or a note," Perry said. " . . . In a way, he beat us because he did not tell us why he did it."

While the precise motive remained a mystery, the dark patterns in Purdy's life that led toward his one-man invasion of the elementary school were clear Thursday.

Police investigators, co-workers, relatives, teachers and acquaintances all painted essentially the same portrait. It was the portrait of a loner with a troubled past and sometimes-violent tendencies, a young man who was unwilling to accept authority, was prone to self-delusion, filled with self-loathing and fascinated by weaponry.

In the neighborhood of tract homes where he lived as a boy, about half a mile from the schoolyard where he ended his life, Purdy was recalled as a child who once ran down the street with a large kitchen knife.

Frank Cappalla, who still lives around the corner from Purdy's former home, remembered how Purdy, then 8, objected when he disarmed him.

" 'You can't take that. It's my mother's,' " he quoted Purdy as saying. "I said, 'If your mother wants it, she can come and get it.' She never did."

Purdy's family moved from Stockton when he was in third grade, eventually settling at Lake Tahoe. Purdy was placed in a continuation high school for low achievers, and teachers there Thursday remembered him well.

"He never hung around with girls or other students," said Michael Makely, a teacher at the Mt. Tallec school. "In fact, you never saw him with other human beings.

"He was a loner. He'd sit in class wearing his big green Army fatigue jacket, and he wouldn't participate. I think he felt inadequate. He was so withdrawn. Looking back on it, we think he was sniffing glue or smoking dope because he was real spacey. . . . I am not surprised this was the kid that did this thing."

Along Stockton's Skid Row, Purdy was known as someone who tried to persuade people that he had served in Vietnam and who boasted of having bought a gun.

Purdy apparently would take rooms in Skid Row hotels in between job-finding journeys to cities across the United States. Police detectives have built a long list of former Purdy employers and recipients of his job applications. People who worked with him remembered Purdy for his bad attitude.

"He expressed hatred, anger and bitterness at just about anybody who asked him to do anything," said Steve Sloan, 29, who worked with Purdy on the night shift for a month at a machine shop here. "Every time you tried to explain something, he looked like he wanted to jump on you."

Purdy's scrape with the law in Lake Tahoe, one of several relatively minor criminal incidents found on his record, occurred 16 months ago in Camp Richardson on the southern end of the lake.

Deputies who responded to the sound of shooting found Purdy with a 9-millimeter pistol. Told his gunplay was illegal, Purdy became defiant.

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