CLEVELAND (AP) - A 14-year-old student known for wearing a dog collar, chains and a black trench coat opened fire at an alternative high school Wednesday, shooting four people before turning a gun on himself, officials said.
The shootings at SuccessTech Academy came two days after the student was suspended for fighting and five days after he threatened to blow up the school.
"He's crazy. He threatened to blow up our school. He threatened to stab everybody," said student Doneisha LeVert. "We didn't think nothing of it."
She said Asa H. Coon made the threat last Friday in the presence of several teachers but no one had taken him seriously.
Student Michael Peek was shot by Coon after Peek punched him in the face right before the shootings began, said student Rasheem Smith, 15.
Coon "came out of the bathroom and bumped Mike and he (Mike) punched him in his face. Mike started walking. He shot Mike in the side." Peek, 14, didn't know Coon had a gun, Smith said.
Students hid in closets and bathrooms and huddled under laboratory desks after the principal announced a "Code Blue" alert over the public address system. Witnesses said the shooter, dressed in all black, moved through the converted five-story downtown office building, working his way up through the first two floors of administrative offices to the third floor of classrooms.
Coon had been suspended Monday for fighting, said Charles Blackwell, president of SuccessTech's student-parent organization, and wasn't supposed to be in the building. "Nobody knows how he got in" the school, Blackwell said.
Blackwell said there was a security guard on the first floor, but that the position of another guard on the third floor had been eliminated sometime earlier. Metal detectors, stationed at the front door, were only intermittently used, students said.
Two teachers and two students were shot and a 14-year-old girl fell and hurt her knee while running out of the school, officials said.
Coon, who was wearing a black Marilyn Manson concert shirt, black jeans and black-painted finger nails, was armed with two .38 caliber revolvers, officials said. In a bathroom, police found a duffel bag stocked with ammunition and three knives.
A student, Frances Henderson, 14, said she often got into verbal fights with Coon, who once told her "I got something for you all."
She said he was a "gothic" who usually wore a trench coat, black boots and a dog collar.
Henderson, who is black, said she frequently bickered with Coon, who was white, but didn't say there were ever any racial undertones. She and her mother, Kim Jennings, said they didn't believe race played any factor in the shootings.
The school is predominantly black but has a mix of white, black and Hispanic students.
Darnell Rodgers, 18, was among those shot. He had been walking up some stairs when the stairway was suddenly flooded with students fleeing an upper floor.
"It took me a couple of minutes to realize that I was actually shot, when I felt my arm burning in the area, that's when I realized that I had got shot," Rodgers said.
"They were screaming, and they were saying, 'Oh my God, oh my God. I knew something was wrong, but thought that it was probably just a fight, so I just kept going," Rodgers said.
He was released from Metro Health Center after he was treated for a graze wound to his right elbow, Dr. Kristen Schmidt of Metro Health emergency room said.
Ronnell Jackson, 15, said he saw the shooter running down a hall.
"He was about to shoot me but I got out just in time," he said. "He was aiming at me I got out just in time."
Antonio Deberry, 17, said he and his classmates hid under laboratory tables and watched the shooter move down the hallway.
"I saw him walking past. He didn't see us, we saw him."
Deberry said the shooter swore and shot several times.
"Next thing I saw was the cops came in. They took us out of the room," said Deberry, who said students crouched under the tables for about 15 minutes until officers came in.
His mother, Lakisha Deberry, who also has a second child at the school, said she was upset that metal detectors at the school were not always in use.
"You never know what's going on in someone's mind," said Deberry, who said she was required to go through a metal detector and present an identification card whenever she wanted to drop off something at school for her children.
Math teacher David Kachadourian, 57, suffered what appeared to be a skin wound to the back of his shoulder and was in good condition, said Schmidt at Metro Health Medical Center
A 42-year-old male teacher was in surgery and his condition was unavailable. Officials identified him as Michael Grassie.
The other two injured teens were taken to a children's hospital, which would not release their names, ages or conditions.
All schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District will be canceled tomorrow, said Eugene Sanders, chief executive officer of the district. Counseling will be available to students who want to talk about the experience at recreation centers throughout the city beginning tomorrow at 8 a.m., Sanders said.
SuccessTech Academy is housed on several floors of the district's downtown Cleveland Lakeside Avenue administration building. Among its offerings is an after-school business program developed by E City Cleveland, a nonprofit group aimed at teaching business skills to inner-city teens.
After the shooting, students were sent across the street to an FBI office. Students stood outside the building, many in tears, hugging each other and on cell phones; others shouted at reporters with TV cameras to leave them alone. Family members also stood outside, anxiously waiting for their children to be released.
The school has about 240 mainly black students with a small number of white and Hispanic students. All the students are poor under federal poverty guidelines.
The school has an academic rating of continuous improvement, in the middle of the state's ratings for how well students perform. Its graduation rate is 94 percent, well above the district's rate of 55 percent.
Tom Boyle, founder of computer consulting firm Boyle International Corp., taught an after-school entrepreneurial program at SuccessTech last year. He said the school's teachers, students and parents are committed to education.
"Being a magnet school, kids are coming from all over the city. It's not a school around the corner from your house - some of the kids have a long bus ride to get to school," Boyle said. "It's a real commitment on the parents and kids' part to go there."
The district opened the school five years ago with 79 students hoping to provide study skills needed to graduate from high school and go to college.
In 2004, a SuccessTech student was named a national youth entrepreneur of the year by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship.
The shooting at SuccessTech came six months after a gunman at Virginia Tech University opened fire in a classroom building, killing 32 people before taking his own life.
A 2005 study published in the medical journal Pediatrics reported that school shootings resulted in 52 deaths between 1990 and 2000. Although widely publicized, by comparison, the study noted that school shootings claim relatively few victims. In New York City alone during the same period, homicides accounted for the deaths of 840 inner city youths, ages 14 to 17, the study said.