SANTEE, Calif. - A 15-year-old high school freshman whose threats about taking a gun to school were apparently shrugged off as not serious opened fire at his campus in this San Diego suburb yesterday morning, killing two fellow students and wounding 13 people in the worst episode of school violence since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.
The authorities said the suspect used a 22-caliber pistol and surrendered on his knees in a school bathroom, saying, "It's only me."
Under a California law that leaves no discretion in such cases, officials said he will be charged as an adult with murder, assault, and weapon possession, though they said his status as a juvenile bars the release of his name.
Sheriff's and FBI officials served a search warrant last night on the apartment where the teen lived with his father. They spent a little more than two hours inside the apartment, removing a computer hard drive, computer monitor, a plastic crate filled with papers and files, and about a half dozen bags filled with evidence. Officials with both agencies said they couldn't comment on the search.
"I know in your minds is the overriding question: 'Why?''' District Attorney Paul Pfingst said at a news conference. "The suspect has made statements. I will not share the contents of the statements with you at this time, but there is no real answer. I am not sure in any real way we will ever know why."
Witnesses described a scene of pandemonium and panic as the 1,900 students of Santana High School in this bedroom community of 58,000 people about 20 miles northeast of downtown San Diego fled the campus after the shootings shortly before 9:30 a.m. Within minutes, sheriff's deputies and police officers, including an off-duty officer who was registering his daughter at the school, were on the scene and cornered the suspect in the bathroom.
The two boys who were slain were identified as Brian Zuckor, 14, and Randy Gordon, 15. Authorities said Randy's sister, Kirschner Gordon, is among the wounded.
A school security guard and a student teacher were among the wounded. Another youth who witnessed the shooting was treated for injuries he received in a car accident as he fled the scene.
Friends and fellow students painted a sketchy portrait of the suspect, whom they identified as Charles Andrew Williams, known as Andy. Some described him as a skinny outsider who was mocked as a nerd, but others said he was sunny and well-liked. Several said he had joked as recently as the weekend about taking a gun to school, but that he had insisted he was only kidding, and no one took him seriously.
Shannon Durrett, 15, was in the women's bathroom next to the men's room when the shooting started. "I heard the tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap," she said.
She said she ran outside and saw a school security guard dragging himself along the ground using a food cart as a shield, unable to use his foot. "A few minutes later I saw Andy taken away in handcuffs," she said. "I never thought Andy would do this. He was nice and funny. I never saw him get picked on."
Another student, a 13-year-old who dated the Williams youth for a month last year, said: "Andy is real nice." The girl, whose mother would not let a reporter use her name, added: "He's very popular. I hung out with him, and we talked about normal kid stuff. He wore the same goofy yellow shirt every day. He was just over at my house Saturday night."
Friends and neighbors said young Williams, whose parents are divorced, had moved here about a year ago from Maryland with his father, Charles Jeffrey Williams, known as Jeff. His mother, Linda Wells, lives in South Carolina. Told that her son is the suspect, she burst into sobs.
Ms. Wells said her son is a normal, good-natured boy.
Authorities said they believe the shootings were indiscriminate and that no particular victims were targeted. Witnesses reported young Williams was smiling as he fired, and officials said he stopped at least once to reload.
Though at least one of the victims had a Hispanic surname and though some students said the overwhelmingly white school had been the scene of some racial tension, Sheriff William Kolender and other officials discounted any suggestion that the shootings had any racial motivation.
Christopher Reynolds, whose girlfriend, Karen Stevens, is the mother of one of Andy Williams's closest friends, said that the Williams youth "got picked on a bit" but was sociable. He said some of the boy's friends had heard him make some sort of veiled threat over the weekend and that perhaps a dozen of his fellow students were discussing the remarks.
Mr. Reynolds said he questioned the boy on Sunday night, but that young Williams denied he had any intention of violence.
"No one believed" he intended to carry out a threat, Mr. Reynolds said. He added: "I do regret that I didn't do something. That's going to be with me for a long time."
The attack was the nation's deadliest school shooting since the April, 1999, blood-bath at Columbine High near Littleton, Colo., where two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before committing suicide.
In Washington, President Bush called the shooting "a disgraceful act of cowardice."
Hours after the shooting, Tabitha Vess, 17, a senior, clutched a teddy bear at an Arby's restaurant near the school, still shaken. Young Vess was late arriving at school and was just heading in when students stampeded out.
"I grew up way too fast today," she said. "I want to be a kid again."
The shooting appears to share one fundamental trait with other such shootings by teens: The suspect discussed doing it.
"Basically, one thing that comes out over and over, not just in school shooting cases but in nearly all homicides by teenagers, is that kids talk about it before they do it," said Paul Mones, a lawyer from Portland, Ore., who is the author of the book, When a Child Kills, and who served on a federal task force that examined school shootings.
"Kids want to vent their anger, their worries, their frustrations, their fantasies," he said.