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California and the West : SANTEE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

School to Transfer 4 Who Heard Threats

Shooting: Santana officials say the move is for the safety of those who did not report the statements. But some parents say they are being punished.

March 09, 2001|TONY PERRY and H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SANTEE, Calif. — As the parents of two students slain in the Santana High School shooting rampage prepared to bury their children, school officials announced plans Thursday to transfer four students who had heard the alleged gunman making threats of violence but kept silent because they thought he was joking.

Granger Ward, superintendent of the Grossmont Union High School District, said the four will be transferred to another school in the district for their own safety.

Ward said the four could be harmed by students who blame them for the attack. Some of the parents of the four have expressed similar fears, he said.

"My job is to be concerned about all the students' safety," he said.

Charles Andrew Williams, 15, a slightly built youth who played "Linus" a year ago in the school play "A Charlie Brown Christmas," faces 28 felony counts after the Monday attack that left two students dead and 13 people wounded.

Three of the 13 are still hospitalized.

Meanwhile, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department began an investigation into threatening e-mails received by one student at Santana High and one at West Hills High, also in Santee.

The e-mails suggested that someone might return to the campus to "finish what Andy began." Sheriff's deputies have been stationed at all middle and high schools in eastern San Diego County since Monday to prevent copycat incidents.

At a noon assembly in the school auditorium, Santana High Principal Karen Desicher warned her students that "sick people" are sending e-mails and urged them to tell authorities immediately if they receive any such missives. She asked students not to be frightened out of remaining in school.

Ron Reina, spokesman for San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender, said the e-mails, both received by girls, have been turned over to a computer-crime task force. The e-mails, he said, could constitute a terrorist threat.

At a news conference in Santee, Ward insisted that the transfers of Williams' four friends are not punitive. The four can apply for readmittance to Santana High next school year, he said.

But Karen Stevens, whose son Josh is one of the four, said school officials appear, in effect, to be blaming her son and the others for not preventing the shootings rather than taking responsibility themselves for "not stopping Andy from getting picked on."

The alleged gunman has yet to offer a motive, but friends have said he was teased and harassed by classmates because of his small stature, large ears and lack of social skills.

Although the Stevens family has not decided whether to fight the district's decision, an education law expert and professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego said he sees nothing in the state Education Code to allow such an involuntary transfer.

"Even if the boys reasonably knew that Williams had a gun . . . failing to report [that information] is not a punishable offense," said professor Robert DeKoven. "If anything, the school has a duty to foresee possible harm to these boys" and take steps to protect them, rather than just send them to another school.

Karen Boaz said her daughter, Katy, and other friends of Williams are being unfairly vilified by school officials and other students. Boaz said she has not yet been notified whether her daughter is among the students being transferred.

"They really, truly didn't believe their friend would do this," Boaz said. "This wasn't a conspiracy. These kids didn't have a code of silence."

The weekend before the shooting, Boaz said, Williams told friends that he planned to bring a gun to school. But when pressed by them, Williams insisted that he was joking, Boaz said.

"[His friends] were deceived," Boaz said. "They never thought Andy was going to school on Monday to blow everyone away. Those kids reacted the only way they could with the information they had at the time."

Boaz and other parents stood outside the school Thursday with a sign: "Deceit Is an Emotional Wound That Never Heals. Andy's Friends Are Victims Too! Please Welcome Them Back With Your Love and Support."

Attendance at Santana High was 80% on Thursday, down from 85% on Wednesday. Students held "prayer circles" in front of the school. Students assembled a banner saying, "Together We Will Survive."

"It's obvious that the healing has begun," said school board President Dan McGeorge. "The students have taken back their campus."

Attorneys for Williams have not announced their plan to defend the youth against the 28 felony charges filed against him in Superior Court on Wednesday. One likely effort will be to have the case transferred to Juvenile Court.

After several days of coverage by hundreds of journalists who flocked to the school--including the New York correspondent of Pravda, the Russian newspaper--parents and officials at Santana High are seeking relief from the spotlight. The campus was closed to the media Thursday, and motorists starting honking their horns angrily at journalists.

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