Reporting from Carlsbad, Calif. — A gunman dressed in black and ranting incoherently fired on an elementary school playground in Carlsbad, Calif., at lunchtime Friday, slightly wounding two children before construction workers tackled him.
The injured girls, both second-graders, suffered graze wounds in the arm, authorities said. They were airlifted to Rady Children's Hospital in nearby San Diego. Witnesses who saw them taken to the aircraft said they did not appear to be seriously injured and that one girl even waved to onlookers.
The alleged gunman was identified late Friday as Brendan L. O'Rourke, 41, thought to be a transient. He was booked on six counts of attempted murder and numerous weapons violations, police said, and is being held in the county jail in Vista.
Ed Willins, an eyewitness to the shooting, said he saw the workers tackle, punch and kick the gunman. "They were on him immediately," he said. "They administered a little street justice on him before the cops got there."
Shortly after noon, the gunman drove up to Kelly Elementary School, said Lt. Kelly Cain of the Carlsbad Police Department. Armed with a .357 magnum handgun, Cain said, the assailant stepped onto the sidewalk next to the playground and started shooting "wildly," firing five or six shots.
Construction worker Carlos Partida, who was remodeling the school kitchen in the beachside community 30 miles north of San Diego, said he saw a man jump over the school fence and start firing a gun at children. He said the gunman appeared to be reloading and trying to leave when Partida jumped in his truck and rammed the man, knocking him down.
"My reaction was to get him. Get him away from the kids," he said. Partida, 30, of Chula Vista, said he and two other construction workers held the gunman down and kept the weapon away until police arrived.
Partida said that the gunman, who was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and black pants, had been screaming incoherently. Authorities later discredited initial reports that the gunman was ranting about President Obama.Some witnesses said the gunman was carrying a gasoline can and others said it seemed to be gasoline can decorated like a Halloween jack-o'-lantern. The bomb squad was called to examine a propane tank found in the gunman's car.
Cain said O'Rourke,described as thin with a goatee and frizzy hair, had originally given three names, one of them a woman's name. There was no immediate indication that he was connected to the school in any way or knew any of the children or teachers there.
The suspect was arrested at the scene and first taken to a hospital for treatment of cuts and bruises he received in the capture.
Authorities were still trying to determine whether the girls, ages 6 and 7, whose names were not released, were hit with bullets, shrapnel or possibly concrete from a ricochet. John Roach, superintendant of Carlsbad Unified School District, said the two were "doing just fine." Police say the children suffered "through and through" wounds.
After the shooting, parents were notified and came to pick up their children at the school, which is set in upper-middle-class neighborhood with tall trees and a large park nearby. It was an emotional scene as parents and children sobbed. "I looked in his eyes and it was scary," one little girl said of the gunman.
The Carlsbad school assault revived memories of past armed attacks on campuses in the San Diego region.
On Jan. 29, 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer used a rifle to kill the principal and a custodian and wound eight children and a police officer at Grover Cleveland Elementary School.Spencer later said she committed the crime "because I don't like Mondays."
On March 5, 2001, Charles Andrew Williams, 15, went on a rampage with a revolver at Santana High School in Santee that left two students dead and 13 people wounded.
The Carlsbad construction workers' quick action came a day after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger honored the heroic actions of an unemployed Fresno construction worker who rescued an 8-year-old girl from her kidnapper.
Victor Perez on Tuesday jumped into his truck and chased down the suspected kidnapper's vehicle, blocking its path. The alleged kidnapper pushed out the young girl, whom Perez then rescued. The suspect fled and was later captured.
Times staff writer Larry Gordon contributed to this report.