ALISO VIEJO — An Aliso Niguel High School junior, distraught over a breakup with his girlfriend Monday, put a gun under his chin and fired in front of her and other classmates, but survived.
The 16-year-old boy was in critical condition Monday night at Children's Hospital at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center, after the bullet went through his mouth and out the base of his nose, hospital officials said.
"Miraculously, he's going to be OK," said Jacqueline Price, a spokeswoman for the Capistrano Unified School District. The boy never lost consciousness and apparently suffered no neurological injury, hospital officials said. However, he is likely to need extensive reconstructive surgery.
Authorities said the boy went home from school Monday morning after the breakup and returned with a .45-caliber, semi-automatic handgun. The shooting occurred at 12:44 p.m., during his fifth-period photography class.
Principal Denise Danne said that the student's former girlfriend, a sophomore and student in the class, saw the shooting.
"He said, 'If you break up with me, I'm going to kill myself,' " Danne said. "We think this was something he thought about over the past couple of days."
Teacher Taz Murtaugh said he had been walking down the hall when he noticed students scurrying out of the photography classroom. He went inside and saw the boy lying on his back with blood running from his head.
"He said, 'I was mad at my girlfriend,' " Murtaugh said.
Murtaugh said he put a T-shirt under the boy's head and tried to keep him calm while waiting for paramedics.
A friend of the girl's said the boy had "always said he was going to do it. He had said it before."
But the boy did not seem distressed during a first-period class, the friend added. "He's a totally cool, down-to-earth person."
Friends of the boy, a standout on the school's wrestling team, said he had told classmates at lunch Monday what he planned to do.
"My friends told me that (he) said, 'I'm going to go home and get a gun and shoot myself in front of her,' " said one of the boy's friends who was at the hospital Monday night.
The friend said the 16-year-old and his girlfriend had just broken up after being together for about 18 months. "I never thought that he would do something that desperate," he said. "This was a great shock to me."
The boy's family was sequestered in a private waiting room at the hospital.
Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Dan Martini said that because the boy's family was going through "an extreme amount of trauma," investigators had not yet investigated where the gun came from.
School counselor Ric Stephenson said that the students who saw the shooting were "pretty much in shock." They were ushered to the school's media center, where counselors and psychologists from throughout the district had been summoned.
"A few young ladies were very emotional, some were crying," said Tom Anthony, an assistant superintendent. "But no one was hysterical or out of control. The psychologists and counselors did a great job."
Parents of those in the class were called, and students were allowed to leave with them, Anthony said.
School officials said they planned to discuss the incident with students today, beginning with a talk by the principal over the school's cable TV system, and talks by individual teachers. Counselors and psychologists will be on the campus for any students, parents or employees who want to talk.
"The message we want to get out to students is that it is OK to talk to an adult at school, or any adult who is important in a student's life, about problems like this," Price said. "There are a lot of people out there to talk to. Just talking about a problem sometimes makes a problem not seem as large as it may seem."
Monday's shooting was the fourth gun incident--and the first involving a shooting--in the school district's history, officials said.
Three years ago, students at San Clemente and Capistrano Valley high schools were found with guns in a two-day period, Price said. Two years ago, a student at Niguel Hills Middle School brought a gun to school because he said he was afraid of being bullied.
The district has a zero-tolerance policy on all weapons on campus, school officials said, and the middle school student was expelled.
Six months ago, the district purchased 12 hand-held metal detectors to be used for spot checks for weapons. However, Anthony said, they have been kept in a warehouse until school personnel can be trained to use them.
Times correspondent Frank Messina and staff writers Len Hall and Thua Hau contributed to this story.