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EL CAJON SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

5 Hurt in Gunfire at High School Near San Diego; Student Is Held

Violence: A police officer who was on campus ends the assault by shooting the gunman. No motive is known, but suspect 'did love his guns,' former neighbor says.

March 23, 2001|ERIN TEXEIRA and GREG KRIKORIAN and SCOTT MARTELLE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Classmates said Hoffman was high-strung and a perfectionist. Steven Shapley, a Granite Hills sophomore, recalled Hoffman exploding in curses last semester when he got 25 out of 30 on an economics test.

Hoffman kept his binders in perfect order and ironed his T-shirts.

El Cajon Police Chief James Davis credited Agundez's quick action with preventing more serious injuries.

"We thank God that no one was killed," Davis said. "Agent Richard Agundez really is the hero."

Agundez, a 19-year police veteran, was in the school administration building when he heard shots. He looked out the double glass doors and saw the gunman. Agundez then opened fire and sprinted out of the building when the suspect "went down due to wounds," said Police Capt. William McClurg.

San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy Angela Pearl happened to be at the school on an unrelated investigation. She covered Agundez when he approached and handcuffed the suspect.

Jennifer Speidel, 17, a senior, was in government class when another student ran in and said someone had a gun and was shooting. As students dove to the floor, Speidel froze in fear. Then she looked at Hoffman's face. She said he cocked the shotgun, looked directly at her, then turned and fired at the administration building across the way.

"He had no expression at all; he just looked like he was concentrating very hard," she said.

Within 15 minutes, a SWAT team was combing the buildings of the Granite Hills campus and students were being frisked and escorted to a nearby park and middle school.

Georgette Torres, the Granite Hills principal, said the school has been working with El Cajon police and Agundez on revising its crisis plan. She said that new plan went into effect Thursday.

"It worked beautifully," Torres said.

The school was locked down after the shooting and will be closed today.

The emergency call for assistance also drew news media and, quickly, parents.

"It was chaotic," said Deputy Dave DiCarlo. "There were parents coming from all directions trying to find out what happened to their kids."

Deputy Matt Ellis tried to stop one young woman from getting through the police barrier. "She said she didn't care if she got shot," Ellis said. "She needed to find out what happened" to her brother or sister.

Mike Wenhold, a ninth-grader, was in gym class when he heard gunfire.

"I saw a kid running. He had blood on the side of his face and on his shirt," Wenhold said. "Then they took us inside the wrestling room and the SWAT team came in and asked us if we had any weapons or other possessions.

"The girls were all in panic. We tried to calm them down," Wenhold said. "It was pretty scary."

The students from two gym classes were marched outside, hands over their heads, until they reached the parking lot, where they were told they could lower their hands.

Throughout east San Diego County, the eerie echo of the Santee shooting left many people numb.

The memorial to the two dead students was still in front of Santana High School on Thursday, but the flowers were dead, the stuffed animals scuffed and dirty. The balloons were deflated and the candles had long since burnt down.

The two high schools are in the same district, but serve somewhat different student populations. El Cajon is nearly twice the size of Santee and more closely conforms to the image of a leafy suburban retreat.

It's where the kids from Santee head when they want to go to town. Homes in the area of the high school are on much larger lots than in Santee; many have swimming pools.

Gov. Gray Davis was appearing at an event in Los Angeles with Mexican President Vicente Fox when informed of the shooting.

"We have to hear the signs of alarm for alienation or loneliness from kids and be able to take them aside and make them feel part of the community so these terrible incidents don't keep happening," he said.

The mother of Bryan Zuckor, one of the two students killed at Santana High School, said she was shocked to hear of the latest school shooting and the news "brings more painful memories."

"It's just overwhelming and awful and it's got to stop," said Michelle Zuckor from her home in Santee. "This is too much. I'm just sorry it happened."

Zuckor said a friend called her to tell of the Granite Hills High shooting. She felt sick when she turned on the television news. "I hope no one got, got," then her voice trailed off. "Did any one get, did anyone die?"

Zuckor was silent on the phone for several seconds after she was told it did not appear that anyone would die from the El Cajon shooting.

"It's just awful that a kid does not get to come home because he got shot in school," said Zuckor, who has not returned to her job as a cashier since her son was killed. "A kid should come home from school. It's something that a parent just does not need."

As Zuckor spoke of her son, Bryan, her voice brightened. For a while she spoke as if he was still with her.

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