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Student’s gun discharges, wounds two at L.A. school

LOS ANGELES – A gun in a 10th grader’s backpack discharged Tuesday when he dropped the bag, wounding two students at a high school, including one who remained in critical condition, police said.

Both teens were hit with the same bullet, Los Angeles deputy police chief Patrick Gannon said.

John Deasy, deputy superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said there was no indication the student with the backpack had touched the gun before it discharged.

“He literally dropped his knapsack on the desk and it went off,” Deasy said.

Gannon said the student apologized before running to another classroom.

“He said, ‘I’m sorry,’ when the gun went off. It made it appear to the teacher that it was an accident,” Gannon said.

Los Angeles Police Capt. Bill Hayes said the teenager was arrested and booked in a juvenile detention center after the shooting.

Police interviewed the suspect and his mother for a couple of hours and both were cooperating. Hayes said the boy expressed remorse and his mother was concerned about the two victims.

Hayes said it’s “plausible” that the shooting was an accident, but the boy was negligent to bring the gun to school. The teenager was on probation for a fight at school last year.

Friends of the suspect said he was not known as a violent boy, but had brought the gun to school for his own protection.

“I think he was just scared,” classmate Para Ross said, “Scared of what was going to happen when he left school and took the bus home. There are a lot of gangs around here. People are dying.”

The boy was interviewed by police detectives Tuesday afternoon. Law enforcement sources told the Los Angeles Times one of the aspects of the investigation was whether the teen, a special education student, had been bullied.

A 15-year-old girl suffered a skull fracture and bruising to the brain and developed a significant blood clot when the bullet grazed her skull.

The blood clot was removed successfully, but the girl remained sedated and in critical condition, said Dr. James Ausman, a neurosurgeon at Los Angeles County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. The girl’s family was by her side.

A 15-year-old boy was in fair condition after being shot in the neck in a classroom at Gardena High School, a sprawling, 1950s-era school with rows of barracks-like classrooms.

The shooting occurred in a classroom at the school, where Principal Rudy Mendoza said students were on a break at the time. The campus was locked down after the incident.

Numerous law enforcement agencies responded to the 2,400-student campus about 15 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

Nelda Robledo, one of the worried parents who gathered near the school, said her 16-year-old daughter texted her that students were ordered to get down on the ground or hide in a corner after the shooting.

It’s unclear how the student got in with the gun in his backpack, district spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry said.

Arriving students are checked with security wands on a random basis at Gardena High, she said. No district school is equipped with walkthrough metal detectors.

Several parents said their children had described racial tension at the school.

“There’s usually fights every day; you’re going to see blacks against whites and whites against blacks every single day,” said Christy Westbrooks, whose 16-year-old daughter attends the school. “Spanish, whites, Samoans – they don’t care what race.”

Discipline has long been a problem at Gardena, which ranks as one of the district’s lowest-performing high schools. Roughly 35 percent of students drop out.

Five years ago, more than 2,000 students were suspended, and 15 students were expelled. Those figures remained high until last year when the number of suspensions dropped to 300 and expulsions to two.

Gardena High School was the scene of a shooting in February 2002, when three assailants tried to hold up two students in an outdoor area. Two students were shot.

In the past five years, two students have been expelled for firearms violations at Gardena High.

Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.