Ohio school gunman had troubled home life

Friday, October 12, 2007

He was the subject of a neglect case when he was 4 and often went to school looking a mess.

CLEVELAND -- Asa H. Coon took abuse, gave abuse, exchanged curses with his mother and said he chose to worship shock rocker Marilyn Manson instead of God. He was the subject of a neglect case when he was 4 and often went to school looking a mess.

None of that explains why the 14-year-old walked down the hallway of his school Wednesday with two guns and started shooting, wounding two students and two teachers before killing himself. But it all makes one adult who knew him wonder whether his life had to end that way.

"This kid finally broke," Christina Burns, who volunteered at a school Coon previously attended, said Thursday. "He finally lost his mind."

Coon had been on suspension for a Monday fight when he somehow got into the SuccessTech Academy alternative school and ran terror through his fellow students, who said his threats to hurt students last week went unheeded by school officials.

Burns said she is angry that no one reached out to Coon: "This all could have been prevented if he had the proper intervention."

Coon was intelligent but struggled with schoolwork, unable to focus, Burns said. His moods swung.

"There was days he was sociable, days where he was shut down, closed in, hated the world," Burns said.

Burns witnessed Coon's troubles with fellow students, recalling an instance in seventh grade where a child dropped a book on his head and he did nothing. She also remembered verbal abuse over his shabby, at times unclean, appearance.

"They picked on him," Burns said. "He didn't have decent clothing. He didn't have decent shoes. He had problems. The other children played on that and tormented him at school."

She added, "Everybody's making him out to be a devil, a demon, but nobody knows what was going on with this kid."

Unanswered questions

Despite 26 security cameras, officials couldn't say Thursday how Coon got into the school with a .22-caliber revolver, a .38-caliber revolver, a box of ammunition for each and three folding knives. Police were still checking surveillance video for clues, but police chief Michael McGrath said a classmate could have let him in a back door.

Coon was a new student at the school, but the district has a dossier on past problems. He had mental health problems, spent time in two juvenile facilities and was suspended from school last year for attempting to harm a student, according to juvenile court records.

Students said officials had done nothing about threats he had made last week to blow up the school and stab students.

"I told my friends in the class that he had a gun and stuff," Rasheem Smith, 15, said Thursday on CBS's "Early Show." "We talked to the principal. She would try to get us all in the office, but it would always be too busy for it to happen."

Responding on the show, schools CEO Eugene Sanders said the district would investigate. A message left at principal Johneita Durant's office was not returned. A phone call to her home was not answered.

The school of about 240 students has metal detectors but none were operating Wednesday. Students said the devices were used only intermittently.

When asked how Coon got past an armed security guard or whether warnings signs were missed, the police chief said he couldn't comment. McGrath said police consult with school officials on where to locate metal detectors, based in part on crime in schools.

Charles Blackwell, president of SuccessTech's student-parent organization, said the position of a second security guard had been eliminated because of lack of money.

Maureen Harper, a city spokeswoman, said Sanders will give the mayor a plan by noon Friday to address whether additional security measures are needed at the school and how the school identifies potential problems among students.

Wearing black clothing, black-painted fingernails and a Marilyn Manson T-shirt, Coon fired as students ran screaming or hid under tables or in closets. Then the freshman shot himself behind his right ear with a .38-caliber shot shell loaded with pellets. Coroner Frank Miller ruled the death a suicide.

McGrath said a preliminary investigation found that Coon entered the school in a five-story converted office building and went to a fourth-floor bathroom, where he changed clothes and took items out of a duffel bag, possibly the weapons.

Students said Coon shot one student who had punched him after Coon bumped into him, and another who was walking up the stairs while others were fleeing. McGrath said Coon went to a classroom and shot a teacher, then, while looking for a second teacher, fired additional shots, wounding a teacher who was trying to help students get to safety.

One teacher remained hospitalized Thursday.

Coon's family declined to comment Thursday.

His older brother, Stephen, was taken into custody at the family home for parole violations, according to prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Lyons. The 19-year-old said his brother did not get any guns from him but wouldn't answer questions about the shooting.

Lyons said the arrest was not connected to Wednesday's school shooting, but McGrath said officials would be talking to Stephen Coon and his mother about the weapons Asa Coon used.

McGrath said that since 2006, police had gone to the family's home five times: for calls about domestic violence, an assault call, a property crime and a hit-and-run accident.

When he was 12, Asa Coon was charged in juvenile court with domestic violence, accused of attacking his mother.

While on probation, he threw his court papers on the floor and then rammed his body into his mother's head when she tried to pick them up, according to court documents.

His probation officer described the relationship between Coon and his mother as extremely poor, with both using foul and abusive language toward each other. Their home was reported in poor condition with dog waste littering the front yard.

Coon, who is white, stood out in a school that is 85 percent black for wearing a black trench coat, black boots, a dog collar, chains and a glove. No one has suggested race played a role in the attack.

Associated Press writers John Seewer and Thomas J. Sheeran contributed to this report.

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