School gunman had access despite threats
The Associated Press
Published Thursday, October 11, 2007 6:25PM EDT
CLEVELAND - Despite 26 security cameras, officials couldn't say Thursday how an armed, suspended 14-year-old student was able to get into his downtown school a day earlier and shoot two students and two teachers before killing himself.
School officials also were investigating how a number of warning signs from the troubled student, including threats made last week, apparently went unheeded.
Police were checking surveillance video Thursday for clues as to how Asa H. Coon, armed with two revolvers, was able to enter the SuccessTech Academy alternative school. Police Chief Michael McGrath said a classmate could have let him in a back door.
Coon was a new student at the school, but the district has a dossier on past problems. He had mental health problems, spent time in two juvenile facilities and was suspended from school last year for attempting to harm a student, according to juvenile court records.
He had been suspended for a Monday fight, but students said officials had done nothing about threats he had made last week to blow up the school and stab students.
"I told my friends in the class that he had a gun and stuff," Rasheem Smith, 15, said Thursday on CBS's "Early Show." "We talked to the principal. She would try to get us all in the office, but it would always be too busy for it to happen."
Responding on the show, schools CEO Eugene Sanders said the district would investigate. A message left at Principal Johneita Durant's office was not returned. A phone call to her home was not answered.
The school of about 240 students has metal detectors but none were operating Wednesday. Students said the devices were used only intermittently.
When asked how Coon got past an armed security guard or whether warnings signs were missed, the police chief said he couldn't comment. McGrath said police consult with school officials on where to locate metal detectors, based in part on crime in schools.
Charles Blackwell, president of SuccessTech's student-parent organization, said the position of a second security guard had been eliminated because of lack of money.
Maureen Harper, a city spokeswoman, said Sanders will give the mayor a plan by noon Friday to address whether additional security measures are needed at the school and how the school identifies potential problems among students.
Wearing black clothing, black-painted fingernails and a T-shirt of Marilyn Manson -- the shock rocker he said he chose to worship instead of God -- Coon fired as students ran screaming or hid under tables or in closets. Then the freshman shot himself behind his right ear with a .38-caliber shot shell loaded with pellets. Coroner Frank Miller ruled the death a suicide.
McGrath said a preliminary investigation found that Coon entered the school in a five-story converted office building and went to a fourth-floor bathroom, where he changed clothes and took items out of a duffel bag, possibly the weapons.
Students said Coon shot one student who had punched him after Coon bumped into him, and another who was walking up the stairs while others were fleeing. McGrath said Coon went to a classroom and shot a teacher, then, while looking for a second teacher, fired additional shots, wounding a teacher who was trying to help students get to another floor.
Near Coon's body, police found the two guns, .22- and .38-caliber revolvers, and a box of ammunition for each, as well as three folding knives, McGrath said. He said the guns are older, meaning it will take some time to trace them.
One teacher remained hospitalized Thursday.
Coon's family declined to comment Thursday.
His older brother, Stephen, was taken into custody at the family home for parole violations, according to prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Lyons. The 19-year-old said his brother did not get any guns from him but wouldn't answer questions about the shooting.
Lyons said the arrest was not connected to Wednesday's school shooting, but McGrath said officials would be talking to Stephen Coon and his mother about the weapons Asa Coon used.
McGrath said that since 2006, police had gone to the family's home five times: for calls about domestic violence, an assault call, a property crime and a hit-and-run accident.
Asa Coon, who is white, stood out in a school that is 85 percent black for wearing a black trench coat, black boots, a dog collar, chains and a glove. No one has suggested race played a role in the attack.
Coon was the subject of a juvenile court neglect case at age 4, came from a poor home and routinely showed up to school unkempt.
When he was 12, Coon was charged in juvenile court with domestic violence, accused of attacking his mother.
While on probation, he threw his court papers on the floor and then rammed his body into his mother's head when she tried to pick them up, according to court documents.
His probation officer described the relationship between Coon and his mother as extremely poor, with both using foul and abusive language toward each other. Their home was reported in poor condition with dog waste littering the front yard.
Christina Burns, who volunteered at one of the schools Coon attended, said Coon both received and delivered abuse. She said that in seventh grade, he did nothing after a classmate dropped a book on Coon's head while the teacher wasn't looking.
"He would often take this abuse from children all the time before lashing at them and cussing them out," Burns said.
Burns said Coon was a bright child who was unable to focus on his schoolwork and was prone to mood swings. She recalled "his shabby shoes and raggedy coat -- didn't brush his hair, take a washcloth across his face, hair sticking up all over the place."
Burns said she is angry no one reached out to him. "This all could have been prevented if he had the proper intervention," she said.
"That child was tormented from his classmates every single day," she said. "Everybody's making him out to be a devil, a demon, but nobody knows what was going on with this kid."