2 students shot accidentally with 1 bullet at L.A. high school

Image: Family members wait for their children o
Family members wait for their children Tuesday outside Gardena High School in Los Angeles, where two students suffered gunshot wounds after a pistol in a 10th-grader's backpack accidentally discharged when he dropped the bag. From left to right are Eliut Maururi, Elisabeth Guerrero and Maria Avila.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

Two students were shot with one bullet at a Los Angeles high school Tuesday when a student dropped a backpack containing a gun and it went off, officials said.

Neurosurgeon Dr. James Ausman says a 15-year-old girl was unconscious when she arrived at Los Angeles County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center Tuesday with a skull fracture, bruising to the brain and a significant blood clot. She went into surgery within 30 minutes to remove the clot.

She is in critical condition and remains sedated. Her family is by her side.

A 15-year-old boy was in serious condition with neck and shoulder wounds.

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 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.

Still, Los Angeles police Lt. John Pasquariello said it was a crime to bring a gun to campus. The unidentified student was arrested and charges were pending, he said.

"We don't know exactly what happened," Pasquariello said. "Traditionally, guns don't go off without someone's finger on the trigger."

The shooting occurred in a classroom at Gardena High School, where Principal Rudy Mendoza said students were on a break at the time. The campus was locked down after the incident. Police initially reported a shooter was at large.

Officers transported the student to a police station while the school 15 miles south of downtown remained locked down.

If the student is released on bail, the school will recommend to the district disciplinary office that he be suspended, district spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry said. The office also could recommend expulsion, which would have to be approved by the school board.

Expelled students are referred to the Los Angeles County Office of Education to complete their education.

Andrea Tibbs, who described herself as a “good friend” of the student, told the Los Angeles Times that he started bringing the gun to campus to protect himself after he had been in a fight outside of school.

Shedric Porter, 14, said he was walking past the classroom at the time.

"I didn't see anything, but I heard the shot, and it was really loud," he said. "I stopped. I was scared. Then I thought it was just a book or something hitting the ground, but it was too loud for that."

It's unclear how the student got in with the gun in his backpack, 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.

Video from a TV helicopter showed students coming out of buildings with their hands up as police with guns drawn covered them.

Numerous law enforcement agencies responded to the shooting at the campus located in the city of Los Angeles adjacent to the city of Gardena.

Gardena police Lt. Steve Prendergast said a teacher called 911 at 10:41 a.m. and Gardena officers initially responded. The investigation was turned over to Los Angeles city and school district police.

The school, which has more than 3,000 students in grades nine through 12, is in the 1300 block of West 182nd Street. That's the Harbor Gateway neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Several parents interviewed at the scene said their children described a lot of racial tension at the school.

"There's usually fights everyday, 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. Every day there's a fight."

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

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

Forming a discipline committee was one of the principal's goals for this year, according to the school's website.

Frantic parents rushed to the school after hearing about the shooting. They paced nervously as they waited behind police tapes for word from their children.

"I've never heard of anything like this before," said Thomas Hill, whose 16-year-old and 18-year-old children attend the school. "You're going to have confrontations between kids but never this."

A mother who was waiting to hear from her 14-year-old son, Michael, said the school has a reputation for gang violence. Lupe Contreras said she has been trying to get her son out of the school.

Cynthia Cano, 15, said she was in a Mexican-American social studies class when an announcement was made that the school was in lockdown.

"We heard someone got shot. Everyone was freaking out a little," she said in a telephone interview from inside the campus.

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.