Crime & Justice

Student in custody after gun discharges at Gardena High School, injuring 2 students

A police officer outside Gardena High School on Jan. 18, 2011.
A police officer outside Gardena High School on Jan. 18, 2011.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Two students are in the hospital and one is in custody after a weapon fired, apparently accidentally, at Gardena High School yesterday.

The 3,000 student campus was on lockdown for several hours after a gun discharged in a health class around 10:30 in the morning. Steve Zipperman, chief of the Los Angeles Schools Police Department, said a 17-year-old boy brought a gun to school in a backpack. Somehow the firearm went off when the student put the backpack down.

"When that weapon discharged," said Zipperman, "the round grazed one of the students and unfortunately struck another student in the temple, as I indicated."

Ninth-grader Elizabeth Arias said word spread quickly that a student had bought a gun to school. She and fellow students panicked. "They were just watching through the window, oh my gosh, what’s happening, oh he could come and shoot us. ... I was really scared, because he could just come across and just shoot you and stuff like that."

There’s no indication that the student wandered the campus brandishing the gun. Police say they found the 12th grader in choir class and took him into custody without a struggle almost an hour after the gun discharged.

Zipperman said a preliminary investigation suggests that the gun accidentally discharged. The student could face charges including possession of a firearm, and negligent discharge of a firearm or assault with a deadly weapon if investigators conclude that the incident wasn’t an accident.

Yolanda Horton spent hours outside Gardena High waiting for the school to dismiss her 10th grade daughter. Horton remembers gangs at Gardena High nearly 15 years ago when she was a student there.

Her daughter’s told her that gangs aren’t a problem at the school now. "I would still let her attend the school because this could happen anywhere, you know, but it unfortunately happened here. But my thing is that I do agree wholeheartedly that they should try metal detectors."

Gardena High School is just north of the Harbor Gateway section of Los Angeles, an area known for its ruthless gangs. Schools police chief Zipperman said he didn’t know whether the student had problems with gangs or the like.

He added that the school uses metal detectors to try and minimize violence. "The district has a policy in place that we utilize magnetometers on the campuses. Those magnetometers are used by the school staff, not the Los Angeles Schools Police Department – however, they are in the area, or standing by when those are used."

But those are random checks and it’s very likely that nobody checked the 17-year-old who brought the gun. L.A. Unified is mobilizing grief counselors to assist students at the school.