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Teen gunman injures 4, kills self at Cleveland school

A woman is escorted out of the SuccessTech Academy in Cleveland Wednesday after a 14-year-old freshman shot and injured four people at the school.
A woman is escorted out of the SuccessTech Academy in Cleveland Wednesday after a 14-year-old freshman shot and injured four people at the school.
Tony Dejak, Associated Press

CLEVELAND — A 14-year-old student, disgruntled about having been suspended for a fight earlier in the week, shot and injured four people at a downtown Cleveland high school before fatally shooting himself, the authorities said.

The gunman was identified as Asa H. Coon, a freshman at the school, SuccessTech Academy. Police and school officials said that around 1:15 p.m. he arrived at the school armed with two handguns, discreetly working his way up two flights of stairs before opening fire in a crowded hallway on the third floor.

Within minutes, the school principal announced a "code blue" over the intercom, leading some students to flee into the halls, while others hid in closets and under desks.

"Shut up, shut up, I hate this school" the gunman said, according Mychael Wilmore-Smith, 14, a sophomore, who was in a fourth-floor classroom when the gunman arrived on her floor and began firing. Mychael said she darted down a flight of stairs before hiding with five other students in a classroom on the third floor. After several minutes, the group, sobbing, decided to sprint down the rest of the stairs, she said. Police said it was not clear whether the shooter intentionally targeted his victims or was firing indiscriminately.

"I was 12 feet away from him as he was shooting," said LaToya Sparks, a 15-year-old sophomore who was on the fourth floor during the shooting. "People were running each other down. I was afraid that I was going to die."

Fellow students described Coon as sullen, "Gothic" in style, and prone to wearing long trench coats and painting his fingernails black.

"He said he was going to take them down," said Marie Johnson, a 16-year old junior, describing how the gunman was often mocked for the way he dressed and how he bragged about plans to target his tormenters. "But we didn't think he was serious."

In calls to 911, students described Coon as 5 foot 5, white and "kind of chubby."

The police would not elaborate on the fight that led to Coon's suspension this week. Court documents showed that he spent time in juvenile detention centers.

The victims included Michael Peek, 15, who was treated for a gunshot wound to the torso and was in stable condition Wednesday night. Another student, 18-year old Darnell Rodgers, was shot in the elbow and released from a hospital. David Kachadourian, 57, a math teacher, was shot in the back, and Michael Grassie, 42, a multicultural studies teacher, was shot in the chest. Kachadourian was in good condition and expected to be released. Grassie remained in stable condition after surgery at Metro Health Medical Center.

Trinnetta McGrady, a 10th-grader who was trampled by students fleeing the gunman, suffered knee and back injuries but was expected to be released as well, police said.

"I'm mad and I'm scared," said Rodgers, soon after being released from the hospital. "But I also know this can happen anywhere, whether you are in the suburbs or in the inner city."

Located in downtown Cleveland directly across the street from a regional FBI office, the school is housed in a five-story office building, the first two floors of which hold administrative offices for the Cleveland school district. Classrooms are located on the top three floors.

The building had a security guard at the front entrance, but no metal detectors, according to students. There are security cameras in most hallways and visitors to the building are required to sign in but most of the classrooms lack doors, according to Michael Charney, who retired in 2005 after teaching at the school for a year. The school used to have three security guards but two were reassigned to other schools, he said.

"I taught for 32 years and this was calmest school I ever taught in," said Charney. The students were extremely well behaved, said Charney. "This is not the kind of thing you would expect there."

In recent years parents have criticized the school for a lack of security. Eugene T.W. Sanders, CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, said: "It is a small school with advanced students. So, typically schools like that do not have the same security level as larger schools. But there was full-time security at this building."

The school has about 250 students and was started in 2002 with seed money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It specializes in technological studies and this year received an Ohio Department of Education School of Promise Award, which is awarded to schools that have at least 40 percent of more of their students eligible for free or reduced lunch and that has achieved the state standard in math and reading testing. Its graduation rate is 94 percent, well above the district's rate of 55 percent, according to school officials.

Students must have good grades to apply, and then they go through an interview process before they are picked. Students and parents interviewed Wednesday said courses are tougher than at other schools and teachers more attentive.

Classes for Thursday were canceled, and Friday had already been scheduled as a day off, school officials said.