SANTEE, Calif., — This town of 58,000 struggled to understand Tuesday why no one believed a 15-year-old who said he would shoot up the high school where he was mocked for being small and scrawny.
Everyone thought he was joking—but he wasn't.
The boy, a recent transplant from Maryland, had confided to friends for days what he planned. On Monday, he carried out his threat, shooting at the 1,900-pupil Santana High School, killing two students and wounding 13.
It was the latest act of juvenile violence to shock the United States since two teenage gunmen killed 15 people, including themselves, at Columbine High School in Colorado two years ago.
After killing the two Santana students and wounding the others with a .22 caliber handgun, the boy surrendered without incident to police in a restroom at the school in Santee, about 10 miles northeast of San Diego.
Officials were working to determine where he got the gun and why so many people seemed to know of his plans but failed to believe him. Fellow students told reporters Monday they thought the youth was joking when he said he was going to shoot up the school.
WJLA-TV, a local ABC affiliate in the Washington, D.C. area, identified the boy as Charles Andrew Williams, and said he had lived in Knoxville, Maryland until last year, when he moved to California with his father.
California Gov. Gray Davis, who ordered the flag over the state capitol lowered, stressed the importance of paying attention to all potential warning signs of an attack.
"We just have to find a way in this society to detect the warning signs more clearly, to keep guns away from children, and to find a way to teach children to resolve personal conflict with words not weapons," said Davis, whose wife Sharon attended Santana High School.
"Every adult and every student should not dismiss any potential warning sign as just a joke," he told CNN. "The consequences of being wrong are just too grave."
Could happen in any town
The shooting was the latest of more than a dozen incidents of gun violence in American schools in recent years, including multiple killings in Oregon, Arkansas and Kentucky, as well as Colorado.
"This could happen in any town in America if it could happen in a town such as Santee," a visibly shaken Mayor Randy Voepel told a news conference.
The youth was to be arraigned as an adult and charged with murder Wednesday, law enforcement officials said.
Santana High School was to be closed Tuesday so counselors could help students traumatized by the shootings.
One youth who saw the boy shooting students said he was smiling as he fired. "He had an evil kind of sadistic demeanor to him," said John Schardt.
At first students thought a cap pistol was going off. But as students fell bleeding, they started fleeing the school.
The two students killed were identified as Brian Zuckor, 14, and Randy Gordon, 15.
Josh Stevens, 15, who identified himself as the boy's closest friend, told local television the youth joked all weekend that he was going to go to school and shoot people.
"He had it all planned out but at the end of the weekend he said he was just joking. I would never have thought he would have had the nerve to do it," he said.
Another friend, Neil O'Grady, said the youth was always picked on because "he's scrawny."
Chris Reynolds, an adult, said the boy began talking about the violent plan over the weekend and that he even frisked him before he left for school but found nothing.
"Everybody kind of thought he was joking around," Reynolds told local station KGTV.
Scott Bryan, the boy's best friend back in Maryland, told WJLA: "I want people to know that he's not a bad person, he's not a psycho-killer person. He's nice and I guess some people just can't take it, can't the stress."