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Culver City School Calm in Wake of Shootings

Violence: 'We still feel that we have a safe campus,' principal says. No arrests have been made.

April 24, 1998|ABIGAIL GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The scene one day after a high school shooting is depressingly familiar to anyone who watches the evening news: frightened-looking students huddled in groups, angry parents descending on the campus demanding tightened security, and administrators pleading for calm.

But the day after two teenagers were wounded in a drive-by shooting on the periphery of Culver City High School, the scene was extraordinary because, on the surface, everything was so ordinary.

Parents dropped off children at the curb Thursday. Lone students walked to school as usual. Teachers marched inside to begin their lessons.

"It's pretty normal," said Rosalind LaBriola, the assistant principal of Culver City Middle School, which is next door to the high school. "It was pretty normal [Wednesday] after what happened."

Two boys--one of whom had been expelled from school, the other a student at a nearby continuation school--were waiting for friends in front of the school's auditorium Wednesday when a group of young men drove up and opened fire, police said. One boy, age 16, was hit in the shoulder; the other, a 15-year-old, was shot in the leg, police said. Neither has been identified.

No arrests had been made Thursday, and detectives were investigating the possibility that the incident was gang-related.

Whether it was a testament to their faith in a relatively safe community and school or a statement about society's acceptance of pervasive violence, parents and students in Culver City went about business as usual.

"What else can you do?" asked Linda Finley, 46, as she accompanied her 15-year-old son, Stephen, into school for a prearranged conference. "This is something you can't really control--who ever would expect something like this?"

Had it not been for her meeting, Finley added, she would have dropped Stephen off as usual--perhaps adding a few words about being safe to her regular goodbye.

The Culver City Unified School District is providing optional counseling and sending home a letter from the school superintendent describing the incident and attempting to reassure parents.

It was the first campus shooting in the district's 49-year history, the letter says.

"We still feel that we have a safe campus," said Culver City High Principal Marvin Brown. "This could have happened down the street just as easily. I can't safeguard the streets. I can only limit who comes in and out of the school."

The ethnically and socioeconomically diverse city of 40,000, whose borders stretch from Marina del Rey to Southwest Los Angeles, reported only four homicides in 1996, the latest year for which complete crime figures are available.

Just before the 7:50 a.m. first bell, Alexandra Torres and Amber Lane, both 15, leaned against the metal fence around a grassy area in front of the school, nonchalantly watching as the steady parade of students made their way inside.

They were not afraid, they said, even if their mothers were a bit more circumspect.

Amber's mother was driving by the school Wednesday when she saw the ambulances. She ran to the school to find out what had happened, Amber said, and was held inside along with the students, waiting for police to give the official word that it was safe to leave.

Alexandra said her mother offered to let her stay home Thursday, but the first-year high schooler declined. "She said in case it happens again, but I said it could happen any time," Alexandra said. "I'd have to come back sooner or later."

So wary or not, both mothers sent their daughters to school as usual; both daughters, as usual, stood right outside in the open until the last possible minute and then dashed inside to begin their day.

Pat Rosby jumped out of her car to kiss and hug her 17-year-old son, Jonathan, goodbye--only a slight deviation from their usual routine.

The only other change was an extra plea to God for Jonathan's safety and the safety of all the students who would pass through the front gates Thursday morning.

"You can just pray," Rosby said. "That's the only thing you can do."

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