Vigil for student shot by police as he held pellet gun at school

Monday, January 16, 2006

LONGWOOD, Fla. -- Family and friends gathered at a private candlelight vigil Sunday to mourn a 15-year-old they knew as a troubled but friendly boy who was shot during a confrontation with police at his middle school.

Christopher Penley was pronounced dead early Sunday, according to the Seminole County Sheriff's Office Web site, two days after a deputy gunned him down as the boy brandished a pellet gun that closely resembled a 9mm handgun.

The boy had been described as clinically brain dead Saturday, said Mark Nation, an attorney for Penley's parents.

On Friday, he was in a Milwee Middle School classroom with the pellet gun when another boy scuffled with him for control of the weapon. Christopher was later cornered by sheriff's deputies and a SWAT team in a bathroom, authorities said.

Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said the boy was suicidal and couldn't be talked into surrendering the weapon. The teenager was shot after he raised the gun at a deputy, Eslinger said.

The sheriff said it wasn't until after the incident that authorities realized the weapon was only a pellet gun.

The media was barred from the memorial service near Penley's neighborhood, which was reeling from the shooting. Family and friends say the boy was emotionally troubled, reportedly bullied at school and had run away from home several times.

Mourners emerged from the church carrying candles, sobbing and hugging each other.

"There were a lot of songs, praying, the minister spoke a few times -- trying to comfort the family that he's in a better place," said Heather Sinclair, who mentored Penley in elementary school in Winter Springs.

Pastor Robbie Hall said he addressed the roughly 135 people in the church with a message of peace.

Outside, 18-year-old Steven Lewis, who had known Christopher for five years, said the teen "got along with everyone."

"Everyone was his best friend," Lewis said. "He's still with me in my heart."

Funeral arrangements were pending.

"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."

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