Two students were wounded, one critically, in a shooting at Salvador Castro Middle School in the Westlake District Thursday, and a 12-year-old girl was detained while authorities struggled to determine how the weapon was obtained and wound up on campus.
Both students who suffered gunshot wounds are expected to fully recover.
The shooting occurred around 9 a.m. in a classroom at the school in the 1500 block of West Second Street, police said. Arriving officers “located a few victims and they also located the suspect, who they took into custody without further incident,” Los Angeles police Lt. Chris Ramirez said. “A gun was recovered at (the) scene.”
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The handcuffed girl was seen being taken into custody and placed into an LAPD patrol car. Los Angeles School Police Department Chief Steve Zipperman later referred to her as a “person of interest.”
Early reports indicated the girl was 15 years old, but Zimmerman later said she is believed to be 12.
Erik Scott of the Los Angeles Fire Department said the most seriously injured patient was a 15-year-old boy who was shot in the head and initially listed in critical but stable condition. A 15-year-old girl suffered a gunshot wound to a wrist and was listed in fair condition.
Officials at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center said both students are expected to make full recoveries. Dr. Aaron Strumwasser, who treated the teens, said the boy who was struck in the head was “extremely lucky.”
“The trajectory of the bullet did not hit any vital structures that were an immediate threat to life,” Strumwasser said. “So I think he will do fine.”
The girl was struck in the right wrist, hospital officials said.
Scott said three other patients — an 11-year-old boy, a 12-year-old girl and a 30-year-old woman — suffered “minor abrasions to the face area, some from glass.” None of them were struck by gunfire.
The middle school shares a campus with Belmont High School, and both schools were placed on lockdown as police combed through Castro classrooms to ensure there was no other threat.
Zipperman confirmed that the shooting occurred inside a multi-grade classroom, but it was unclear what prompted the gunfire or how the weapon wound up on campus. Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Robert Arcos said “it is still too early” to understand a motive for the shooting or how a student obtained a weapon.
Zipperman said authorities’ initial focus will be caring for students who may have witnessed the shooting.
“We know this is a very traumatic incident for all the children involved, particularly inside that classroom,” he said. “As we continue to move forward with this, I want everyone to have a clear understanding that 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 who are here to support the needs of the students and we will continue to work with those students,” he said.
After the suspect was taken into custody and the wounded students were taken to hospitals, police went room to room on the locked-down campus, leading some students out with their hands behind their backs.
Mayor Eric Garcetti told ABC7 at the scene it was unclear if the shooting was intentional or accidental.
“Luckily there are no fatalities or serious injuries,” he said.
“We need to find out how did that gun get into the school,” Garcetti told the station. But he stressed that the mental well-being of other students on campus was the immediate priority.
“We have a lot of people from the mayor’s Crisis Response Team as well as counselors from the school district to help these young people deal with the situation to make sure there’s not further trauma to them from what happened,” he said.
Once the commotion died down, classes resumed at both Castro Middle School and Belmont High School, with counselors provided in classrooms. LAUSD Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian assured parents that there was no remaining danger on the campus, but the shooting “will be carefully investigated.”
“We could not control or know about this situation, but our schools are safe,” she said.
Normal dismissal time for both campuses is 3:05 p.m., but school officials allowed parents to pick up their children beginning at 1:30 p.m. if they wished to do so. Dozens of parents gathered outside the campus when news of the shooting broke.
The district set up an information hotline for parents at (213) 241-1000.
Ekchian said classes will be held as usual at the schools on Friday.
Zipperman declined to provide specifics about security measures that are in place at the Castro Middle School campus or if students go through metal detectors or are routinely searched. He said tersely that every secondary school in the district has “policies and procedures” in place to protect students.
Zimmerman expressed frustration, however, at the ability of a student to obtain a weapon.
“We do not know yet … how a young person on this campus ended having the ability to have access to a firearm and bring it onto a campus,” the chief 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 inside a home. … The majority of the weapons that our young people get their hands on today is the result of a weapon they get at home or from a family members’ home.
“… I assure you if we find out it came from an adult from a home, the proper prosecutorial procedures will occur,” Zipperman said.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer echoed that frustration, and said Thursday’s shooting should be a “call to action” for gun owners to ensure weapons are kept away from children.
“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,” Feuer said. “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 could easily have been prevented by responsibly, safely storing weapons.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said she was “horrified” to hear of the shooting.
“Our schools should be safe spaces for our children to grow, learn and play,” she said. “Today, this innocence was ripped from them as a result of a minor who had access to a gun. This needs to stop. We have seen this story again and again, and it is only getting worse: according to the Gun Violence Archive, Americans have suffered through 22 mass shooting incidents 31 days into this new year. Today would be the 23rd.
“Once again, I call upon our federal representatives to implement responsible gun safety laws that protect people instead of putting them in danger. No parent should ever have to fear sending their child to school. It’s far past time for Congress to pass responsible gun safety laws.”
–City News Service
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