Two students were wounded and a 12-year-old girl was taken into custody after an accidental shooting Thursday morning in a classroom at Salvador Castro Middle School in Los Angeles, police said. A student who was in the classroom told KABC-TV that the girl possibly thought the weapon had brought to school was a toy gun. He told the news station that he thought the shooting was accidental.
“They thought it was a toy gun, but then it shot,” the unnamed student told the news station. He said he heard a “big pop” after the gun went off and the girl said she “didn’t mean to” shoot.
According to the Los Angeles Police Department, five people were injured, two with gunshot wounds and three others with injuries not caused by gunfire. A 15-year-old boy is in critical condition and a 15-year-old girl is in stable condition, but both students are expected to survive, police said. The three other victims, ranging in age from 11 to 30, suffered minor injuries from broken glass and shrapnel, according to police.
The school was put on lockdown Thursday morning just before 9 a.m. after the shooting occurred in a classroom. The school is located at 1575 W 2nd Street in the Westlake district of the city, near downtown. The names of the suspect and the victims have not been released. Police have revealed few details about what happened.
Los Angeles School Police Chief Steve Zipperman said at a press briefing that there was a “quick response” to the shooting by his department, along with the LAPD and Los Angeles Fire Department.
The 12-year-old girl is being charged with negligent discharge of a firearm on school grounds. It is not clear if she will face any other charges.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police Are Investigating How the Girl, Who Was Seen Being Led Out of the School to a Police Cruiser in Handcuffs, Was Able to Get a Gun
The suspect and the weapon used in the shooting were taken into police custody at the scene and “Sal Castro Middle School is declared safe,” police said. Local news helicopters showed the suspect being led out of the school in handcuffs.
“This continues to be an active investigation,” the LAPD said in a news release. “However, at this time, the information suggest that this was an isolated incident, involving the negligent discharge of a firearm, where innocent children and a staff member were unfortunately injured.”
Los Angeles School Police Chief Steve Zipperman said the suspect is a 12-year-old girl. She has not been identified. Further details about her have not been released. It is not clear if she brought the gun to school or if belonged to someone else.
Police said they are not sure how many students were in the classroom when the shooting occurred.
“We don’t know the exact number of students in the class at this time,” Zipperman said. “When this incident occurred, there were numerous kids that ran and other kids that may have left the classroom.”
Jordan Valenzuela, 12, told The Associated Press he heard a loud bang while in a nearby classroom. He said he talked to the girl after the shooting and she was sobbing.
“She was like, ‘I didn’t mean to. I had the gun in my backpack and I didn’t know it was loaded and my backpack fell and the gun went off,’” he told The AP. He added that the girl asked him to hide the weapon. “She said, ‘If I give you the gun will you hide it for me?’” he said. “I said ‘No.’ Then I moved away from her because I was a little bit scared.”
Jocelyn Lopez told KTLA-TV her 13-year-old sister was inside the school. The 7th grader sent a text message to Lopez saying she “just heard something pop inside the classroom” and people started panicking. Lopez told the news station, “It was really close to her. Not even the school is safe … it’s just bad.”
Police said they are investigating how the girl was able to get a gun. Prosecutors said they could press charges against an adult if improper storage of a gun or other negligence occurred.
“Because of this incident it is important that we remind you of something. We do not know yet and the investigation hopefully will find out, how our young person on this campus ended up having the ability to have access to a firearm and bring it on to a campus,” Zipperman said. “Or for that matter, any young person having access to a weapon and bringing it anywhere. We have laws that mandate that parents who own guns, any adult who owns guns, any gun owner, has an obligation to ensure that gun is locked in a home. The majority of the weapons that our young people get their hands on today is a result of a weapon they get at home or from a family member’s home.”
Zipperman said authorities, “continue to work in conjunction with the Safe Neighborhoods Program and one of the main missions that we will have and that we will continue to enforce is the issue of finding out how a young person had access to a weapon. And I ensure you, if we find out it came from an adult, from a home that the proper prosecutorial procedures will occur.”
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer told reporters, “We don’t know the facts here. We don’t know how the gun got in the hand of the shooter in this case. But as a broader point, throughout our city, you have seen our office again and again prosecute adults when children get access to guns that haven’t been safely stored. Including times when children bring a gun to school or to another public location. There is no reason for that ever to happen. This is a very important call to action to every adult in our community who has a gun. You must store it safely and keep it out of access for any child to reach. It could result in a tragedy. It could result in a suicide or a homicide or another situation, which easily could have been prevented by responsibly, safely storing weapons.”
Feuer said Los Angeles and California both have laws that require the safe storage of weapons.
“Every responsible gun owner needs to take heed to the fact that they have an obligation for all of us,” Feuer said. “In this instance, I do not know yet the facts as to how this individual got a gun in the first place. So we’re not necessarily attributing unsafe storage to this situation, it is possible, we just don’t know yet. But this is an opportunity for all of us in the community to understand the rules and our responsibilities.”
Authorities would not say if there are metal detectors at the school and would not get into other specifics about security there.
The Los Angeles Police Department is leading the investigation into the shooting, with assistance from the Los Angeles School Police. The suspect is being interviewed by the LAPD.
“There is only so much information we can provide,” Zipperman said, citing the ongoing investigation. “But I do want to stress, once again, our campus, while it’s on lockdown, is safe. There is no more safety threat to the students of this school.”
LAPD Deputy Chief Robert Arcos said about the investigation, which is being led by the Rampart Division, “there is a lot of work to be done, as you can imagine. There are a number of students and teachers and administrators that we will need to interview. And there will be a number of follow-ups that will come from this investigation. When we have that information and we are sure, we will begin to share that information with you. But at this point now, it is still too early in the investigation to understand the motive, what precipitated this, how that weapon was accessed, etc. I know there are a lot of questions you may have, but at this point we’re not in a position to answer because we just do not know yet.”
2. The 15-Year-Old Boy Was Shot in the Head, While the 15-Year-Old Suffered a Gunshot Wound to Her Wrist
The 15-year-old boy suffered a gunshot wound to the head, Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Erik Scott said at a press briefing. He is in critical, but stable condition, Scott said. The boy is at LA County USC Medical Center in the ICU. The hospital said he was shot in the left temple. He was awake and alert when he arrived at the hospital.
“This child was extremely lucky,” Dr. Aaron Strumwasser told reporters at a press briefing. “The trajectory of the bullet did not hit any vital structures that were an immediate threat to life. … I anticipate that he will make a full recovery.”
The 15-year-old girl suffered a gunshot wound to the wrist and she is in fair condition, according to Scott.
Scott said a 30-year-old woman, an 11-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl all suffered abrasions. They were quickly triaged and transported to local hospitals, Scott said.
The parents of those who were injured have been notified, authorities said. Police said they are investigating whether the victims were targeted.
“It is an incredibly difficult situation for us as members of the LA Unified community,” Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said. “The school campus is safe now. It is an incident that will be carefully investigated. We’re incredibly saddened by the fact that it happened. I want you to know we are here for our kids. We could not control or know about this situation, but our schools are safe. We remain committed to our students and communities. We will address this issue both in terms of real-time mental health support and any other type of support that is necessary for our students to be back and learning, which is their primary responsibility. Our priority is keeping them safe and learning.”
LAPD Deputy Chief Robert Arcos said, “Our campus and our surrounding community is safe and it is secure. We have moved from a tactical operation now into an investigative component. We are unified in command here with school police and the LA Fire Department. As a parent, this is everyone’s worst case nightmare, worst case scenario and a nightmare for all of us. But this is what I want to assure you, the response from the Los Angeles Fire Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles School Police Department was extraordinary. This city shares a great relationship with all our partners here and it was shown today. Everybody worked hand-in-hand, we know what to do, we’ve trained for it, we’ve planned, we’ve coordinated and it really worked today. The response from the school district, having crisis counselors, administrators here was nothing short of spectacular work as well. So, the surrounding community, our parents who are watching, should be assured that the children are in great care.”
3. The School Remained on Lockdown Nearly 2 Hours After the Shooting & District Officials ‘Mental Health Folks’ Will be Helping Students
Despite the school being searched and declared safe, the scene was still locked down until regular dismissal, authorities said. There are no outstanding suspects, Los Angeles School Police Chief Steve Zipperman said at a press briefing.
“Salvador Castro Middle School and Belmont HS continue to be on lockdown. Parents please monitor your ConnectEd messages for further information,” Los Angeles School Police tweeted just before 10:30 a.m. The school day is expected to continue until regular dismissal.
Zipperman told The Associated Press, “We will attend to the needs of these students who witnessed this very carefully, with the understanding this is very traumatic. We have our school mental health folks that are here to support the needs of the students.”
He said parents of the students at the school have been contacted.
“As the superintendent, I want to express to all parents and community members that our students are safe, we will make sure that every child is reunited with a parent, a guardian or a custodian,” Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said at a press briefing Thursday. “We will keep the students here and safe, no matter how late it is. I’ll make sure I’m here with the last child leaving this campus.”
Ekchian told reporters that though the school day would continue, “We have counselors in the classrooms. Our students will be fed, they will have opportunities to discuss as to what that means to them and we will continue that support in following days until we have our campus back where it should be.”
Parents who wish to pick up their children early will be allowed to do so. A hotline for parents and family members with questions has been set up: 213-241-1000.
4. The School, Which Shares a Campus With Belmont High School, Has About 350 Students From Grades 6 to 8
According to the school’s website, Sal Castro Middle School serves about 365 students in grades 6 to 8. The school’s website states, “It is located in one of Los Angeles densely populated areas and is a center of hope for children of families that are hard-working and look for a high quality education. With the help of the AVID program being school-wide, students are more aware of how important an education is and leave Castro knowing that it is possible to achieve higher education. With hard work, diligence, and perseverance our students enter High School having set goals for their education.”
Gloria Echeverria, who was among a group of parents and others waiting behind police tape, said her 13-year-old son goes to the school.
“I’m just hoping it has nothing to do with him,” she told The Associated Press. “I’m just scared for all the kids — school is supposed to be a safe place for them, and apparently it’s not.”
School Board President Monica Garcia told reporters at a briefing, “Thank you to all our first responders and the people who came together at Belmont to help our students. We are all troubled by the fact that some of our young people were hurt today. We are troubled as we ask as school community to stand strong and stand together. But we must remember that healing is possible and there are many resources here across this district and the city to help our young people and their families. I am grateful to all of the people who have supported our kids, our staff and our leaders as we move through this investigation and help our young people return to their normal place of learning.”
5. The Shooting Is the 12th to Occur on School Property in the U.S. in 2018
The shooting at Sal Marcos Middle School is at least the 12th to occur on school property in the United States in 2018, according to the New York Times.
Included in that total is a shooting that occurred last week in Benton, Kentucky, on January 23. A 15-year-old student opened fire on classmates, killing two other 15-year-olds and injuring 18 other people. Just a day earlier, on January 22, a 15-year-old girl was shot by another student at a high school in Italy, Texas. She survived the shooting and the gunman was arrested.
The other shootings have not been as high-profile, according to NPR, which compiled a list of the incidents. On the same day as the Texas shooting, a student was wounded in the parking lot of a New Orleans charter school. On January 20, a man was shot and killed on the campus of Wake Forest University. The victim was a student at Winston-Salem State University and was attending a sorority party.
On January 15, a bullet was fired into a dorm room in Marshall, Texas, on the campus of Wiley College.
On January 10, there were three shootings on the same day. The first was a suicide at Coronado Elementary School in Arizona. Then a student fired a shot in a classroom at Grayson College in Texas, but nobody was hit. Police say it was an accidental discharge during a criminal justice class. And a shot was fired at a building on the campus of Cal State San Bernardino. No one was injured there.
On January 6, a shot was fired at a school bus carrying students in Iowa, shattering a window, but not causing injuries. On January 4, two shots were fired into a Seattle high school classroom. And on that same day a man shot himself in the parking lot of an empty elementary school in Michigan.
“We have absolutely become numb to these kinds of shootings, and I think that will continue,” said Katherine W. Schweit, a former FBI official who co-authore a study on active shooting incidents, told the Times.