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Published: Friday, 10/12/2007

School security didn t deter Cleveland shooter

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Asa Coons is holding a trophy he won in a citywide chess tournament. Asa Coons is holding a trophy he won in a citywide chess tournament.
THE PLAIN DEALER Enlarge

CLEVELAND Despite 26 school security cameras, officials couldn t say yesterday how an armed, suspended 14-year-old student was able to get into SuccessTech Academy on Wednesday and shoot two students and two teachers before killing himself.

School officials also were investigating how warning signs from the troubled student, including threats made last week, apparently went unheeded.

Police were checking surveillance video for clues as to how Asa Coon, armed with two handguns, was able to enter the alternative school in Cleveland.

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.

Coon appeared to be both aggressor and victim.

He was the subject of a juvenile court neglect case at age 4, came from a poor home, and routinely showed up to school unkempt. He also had been suspended for fighting, and classmates say he had made threats, including to blow up the school and stab everybody.

When he got suspended, he was like, I got something for you all, said student Frances Henderson, who fought with Coon.

That child was tormented from his classmates every single day, Christina Burns, who volunteered at a school Coon previously attended, said yesterday. Everybody s making him out to be a devil, a demon, but nobody knows what was going on with this kid.

Coon, who had previously threatened suicide, on Wednesday wore black clothing, black-painted fingernails, and a Marilyn Manson T-shirt the shock rocker Coon said he chose to worship instead of God.

After wounding the students and teachers, Coon shot himself behind his right ear. Coroner Frank Miller ruled the death a suicide.

Students said metal detectors were used intermittently at the school. None was operating on Wednesday, two days after Coon had been suspended.

Chief McGrath, asked how Coon got past an armed guard or whether warning signs were missed, said he couldn t comment. He said police work 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.

SuccessTech Academy had no reports of student discipline problems in the last three years, according to state data.

Districtwide, the city schools reported 100 cases of students possessing a gun last year, 55 the year before, and 136 cases in the 2004-2005 school year.

When he was 12, 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 abusive language toward each other.

Students said they did not take Coon s threats seriously and said teachers knew but did nothing.

Rasheem Smith, 15, said on CBS Early Show that despite their warnings about Coon, principal Johneita Durant told them she was too busy.

I told my friends in the class that he had a gun and stuff, he said. 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. Mr. Sanders was superintendent of Toledo Public Schools from 2000 to 2006.

A message left at Ms. Durant s office was not returned.

Meanwhile, Coon s older brother, Stephen, was arrested at the family home yesterday on parole violations, according to state prisons spokesman JoEllen Lyons. She said the arrest was not connected to Wednesday s school shooting.

Coon, 19, who walked out in handcuffs, said his brother did not get any guns from him, and did not answer questions about the shooting.

Stephen Coon has a criminal record that includes convictions of burglary, intimidating a victim or witness, and attempted felonious assault.



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