Brian Myrick  /  AP
With the help of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Danny Banks, right, Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger, left, points to a pellet gun brandished by a student a Milwee Middle School in Longwood, Fla., on Friday.
updated 1/15/2006 8:46:05 PM ET 2006-01-16T01:46:05

Family and friends attended a candlelight vigil Sunday for a 15-year-old boy who died two days after being shot by police at his middle school.

Christopher Penley was officially pronounced dead at 4:57 a.m. Sunday, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement posted on its Web site.

The boy had been described as clinically brain dead Saturday, and was kept alive so his organs could be harvested, said Mark Nation, a lawyer for Penley's parents.

“It’s just unbelievable to me that he’s gone,” said Bucky Hurt, a family friend who had been with the boy’s father, Ralph Penley, at the hospital. “It’s very, very devastating. Good kid too— it's a tragedy.”

The media was barred from entering Landmark Community church, where the vigil was held. But friends and neighbors have described the teenager as emotionally troubled, saying he had been bullied at school and had run away from home several times.

Penley had been brain dead since about 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning, but was kept alive so his organs could be harvested, said Mark Nation, a lawyer for Penley’s parents.

Penley was accused of taking a pellet gun to Milwee Middle school Friday that closely resembled a 9mm handgun. After a classroom scuffle in which he struggled with another boy over the gun, he was cornered by sheriff’s deputies and a SWAT team in a school bathroom, authorities said.

Emotionally distraught
“Everybody in the whole neighborhood is really upset,” Paul Cavallini, who lives across the street from the Penleys, said Saturday. “He was a quiet kid— polite and everything. He was just a normal teenager.”

However, friends and investigators say he was also bullied and emotionally distraught, and went to school that day expecting to die.

Patrick Lafferty, a 15-year-old neighbor who has known Penley about six years, said he wasn’t surprised by what happened. He said Penley was a loner who “told me he wanted to kill himself dozens of times.”

“He would put his headphones on and walk up and down the street and he would work out a lot,” preferring to keep to himself, Lafferty said.

Swofford said the boy had run away from home several times. Her 11-year-old son, Jeffery Swofford, said Penley had said he had something planned.

“He said ‘I hope I die today because I don't really like my life,’” Jeffery Swofford said.

Pellet gun disguised?
At a news conference following the shooting Friday at suburban Orlando’s Milwee Middle School, authorities put the pellet gun side-by-side with a Beretta. It appeared to have black paint covering the red or pink markings on the muzzle that may have indicated to officers that it was a nonlethal weapon.

“As you can see, it doesn’t take a professional to see how close this looks to the real thing. I would not be able to tell the difference,” said Joyce Dawley, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent in charge of the investigation.

Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said the incident began about 9:38 a.m., when another student saw Penley with the weapon and struggled with him for it. Pointing the gun at the other student’s back, Penley directed him to a closet, dimmed the lights and left the classroom, Eslinger said.

The school went into lockdown.

From there, the sheriff said, Penley traversed the school campus before ending up in a bathroom. By then, more than 40 officers, including SWAT and negotiators, were on scene. He refused to drop the firearm, Eslinger said, and was shot after pointing it at a SWAT deputy.

“The student said he was going to kill himself or die,” Eslinger said.

Father tried to prevent shooting
But the family’s lawyer said Saturday Ralph Penley, the boy’s father, told authorities it wasn’t a real gun on a cell phone as he rushed to the school after hearing of the incident. Nation said police wouldn't let Ralph Penley inside when he arrived.

“If Christopher was alive and (Ralph Penley) was able to go into the school, he would've been able to talk him out of it,” Nation said. “He did everything he could to avoid this situation.”

However, Nation said he didn’t know the precise timeline of events, including whether Christopher had been shot before Ralph Penley arrived. He said he’d be investigating the incident further.

“We’re not here at this point to make accusations,” Nation said.

Seminole County Sheriff’s Lt. Dennis Lemma said Sunday the department had no immediate comment on Nation's statement.

“The sheriff is not looking to do anything until Tuesday,” he said.

However, the Orlando Sentinel reported Sunday that Eslinger said Ralph Penley wasn’t told of the events until after his son was shot.

“It’s a total misunderstanding,” Eslinger told the newspaper.

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