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Teen suspect in Georgia school shooting may face adult charge

Four victims remain hospitalized

Six students were injured in the Heritage High School shooting

CNN's Sean Callebs describes the shooting (May 20)
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Coping with the fear factor

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May 20, 1999
Web posted at: 10:55 p.m. EDT (0255 GMT)

In this story:

Weapons recovered, home searched

Tearful surrender

Suspect had broken up with girlfriend

Columbine copycat?


CONYERS, Georgia (CNN) -- A teen-ager not yet old enough to drive may be tried as an adult for allegedly opening fire Thursday at Heritage High School in suburban Atlanta and wounding six classmates.

The suspect, a 15-year-old sophomore who allegedly brought the guns to school aboard a bus, later broke down in tears as he surrendered to an assistant principal.

The most seriously injured student, Stephanie Laster, 15, underwent surgery for a bullet that hit her in the buttocks and passed through to her intestines.

The five others -- four boys and a girl -- were less seriously injured. Three remain hospitalized and two were released after being treated.

The alleged gunman, whose name has not been released because of his age, was taken to the Rockdale County Sheriff's Department and later transferred to a juvenile detention center. His mother and stepfather, described by one deputy as "in a state of shock," have seen the teen-ager.

District Attorney Richard Read said he will seek a Superior Court judge's permission to prosecute the youth as an adult on multiple charges of aggravated assault, cruelty to children and weapons violations.

On the question of whether others may have been involved, Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington said, "There isn't any reason to believe that anyone helped him in this."

School Superintendent Donald Peccia said the sophomore had not been in trouble before. "We had no reason to suspect this student at all," he said.

Weapons recovered, home searched

An investigator carries guns out of the suspect's home  

Wigington said two weapons were recovered at the scene, a handgun and a .22-caliber rifle.

Police armed with a search warrant removed a computer, at least two rifles and bags full of other items from the boy's tree-shrouded home in a quiet, well-to-do neighborhood. They also searched his school locker.

Two teen-age brothers who lived two houses away from the suspect said they've seen a gun rack in his basement containing 12 to 14 rifles. But Skip and Brad Morgan, 17 and 15 respectively, said the suspect had a good family and seemed normal.

A bomb squad conducted a sweep of the school for explosives as a precautionary measure after the shootings and blew up a book bag on the school grounds. The bag did not belong to the suspect and did not contain any explosives, police said.

There was no immediate word on a motive for the shootings, which came just before the start of classes on the last day of school for seniors at Heritage.

The school, which has about 1,300 students, is in Conyers, Georgia, about 30 miles east of Atlanta.

Students gathered outside the school on a track after the shooting, then boarded buses to head home.

Peccia said classes on Friday would be canceled, but that Heritage High's graduation ceremony will go on as scheduled May 28.

Tearful surrender

The incident started at 8:03 a.m. EDT in the school commons, a break area for students where hundreds generally gather before class, and ended 12 minutes later, said Rockdale County Commission Chairman Norman Wheeler.

He said a quick emergency response prevented a worse tragedy.

Sophomore Joe Watts, who said he knows the suspect, said that after a flurry of gunfire inside the school, the suspect ran outside, dropping the rifle as he fled.

Once outside, he pulled out the handgun, dropped to his knees and put it in his mouth, witnesses said. "He put the revolver in his mouth, but he didn't shoot himself," said senior William Britt.

As Assistant Principal Cecil Brinkley spoke to the suspect outside, the youth broke down in tears, according to Watts. "He was saying over and over, 'I'm so scared' and he was crying," Watts said.

Suspect had broken up with girlfriend

Student Nathaniel Deeter, 15, said the suspect had broken up with his girlfriend three weeks ago and since then had told Deeter, "I have no reason to live anymore."

"I told him he was crazy," Deeter said. "I thought he was just feeling sorry for himself because a lot of kids feel like that."

Chris Dunn, a sophomore, said he had seen guns at the student's home but had never heard him mention plans to shoot anyone at school.

But Katie Bir, a freshman and a friend of the suspect's girlfriend, said, "People have been saying he's been wanting to do this all year long."

Dunn said the suspect's grades had fallen recently. "He wasn't even trying anymore, which I was kind of concerned about."

Heritage High has no metal detectors but does employ a campus policeman, and some areas of the school are equipped with surveillance cameras.

Columbine copycat?

The shooting comes one month to the day after the massacre at Columbine High School in the Denver suburb of Littleton in which two high school students murdered 13 people in a shooting rampage.

President Bill Clinton visited Littleton on Thursday to console students and families of victims.

Before leaving Washington, he called the Georgia shootings "deeply troubling."

"This incident again should underscore how profoundly important it is that all Americans come together in the face of these events to protect all of our children from violence," the president said.

Attorney General Janet Reno referred to the Conyers shooting as a "copycat" shooting.

"When we see some of these copycat events, it is because people want attention and they want to have a focus on them. I think this is indicative of again the need to reach out to young people and to try to address what causes this," Reno said at a Washington news conference.

"Our thoughts and prayers go to the victims, to their families, and our hearts go out with wishes for quick recovery," she said.

The Georgia shooting occurred on the same day the Senate passed legislation to require the sale of safety devices with handguns and expand a system of background checks for firearms purchasers.

CNN affiliate WSB-TV contributed to this report

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Attorney General of the United States, Janet Reno
Heritage High School Home Page
Rockdale County Public Schools
Conyers Online
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