April 18, 2014

Elyria
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School knew of shooter’s troubled past

CLEVELAND — Teased since kindergarten for his shabby clothes and odd behavior, one of the newest students at a downtown high school had made threats in front of students and teachers, and the school district has a dossier on his past problems.

Yet Asa Coon was able to roam the halls at SuccessTech Academy alternative school Wednesday, firing shots that wounded four people, with security unchanged and officials a day later trying to figure out how he got inside.

The 14-year-old appeared to be both aggressor and victim.

Coon 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 bitterly with Coon.

“That child was tormented from his classmates every single day,” Christina Burns, who volunteered at one of Coon’s schools, said Thursday. “Everybody’s making him out to be a devil, a demon, but nobody knows what was going on with this kid.”

Armed with two revolvers and wearing black clothing, black-painted fingernails and a Marilyn Manson T-shirt — the shock rocker Coon said he chose to worship instead of God — Coon fired eight times and shot two teachers and two students. One teacher remained hospitalized Thursday. A student who injured her knee while fleeing was being released.

Then the freshman, who court records show had threatened suicide previously, shot himself behind his right ear with a .38-caliber shot shell loaded with pellets. Coroner Frank Miller ruled the death a suicide.

Despite 26 security cameras, the district wasn’t able to say how Coon was able to enter. Police were checking the video Thursday for clues. A classmate could have let him in a back door, police Chief Michael McGrath said.

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

McGrath, asked how Coon got past an armed security guard or whether warnings signs were missed, said he couldn’t comment.

He said police work with school officials on the issue of 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.

One parent said she liked the school, but didn’t know whether she’d send her son back there.

“They need to have some more security, more police, metal detectors, something,” said Marlee Gray, who said she went through a lengthy interview process to get her son, Joel, enrolled in the school.

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

District-wide, 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.

Coon had mental health problems, spent time in juvenile facilities and threatened to commit suicide while in a mental health facility, according to juvenile court records.

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 foul and abusive language toward each other. Their home was reported in poor condition with dog waste littering the front yard.

Coon was suspended from school for 10 days last year, according to court records. “The issue was addressed and was resolved,” according to his probation officer’s report, who didn’t specify details of the suspension.

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

Rasheem Smith, 15, said on CBS’s “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,” said Smith.

“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. A message left at Durant’s office was not returned. A phone call to her home was not answered.

Coon was a bright child who was unable to focus on his schoolwork and prone to mood swings, Burns said.

“There were days when he was extremely hyper,” Burns said. “There would be days that he would be closed in. Like walls around him.”

Once, in seventh grade, “He was sitting at his desk playing with his pencil. The teacher was in the closet getting some materials. Another child went up to him with a book and dropped it right on his head. He did nothing about it.

“He would often take this abuse from children all the time before lashing at them and cussing them out.”

Coon, who is white, stood out in a school that is 85 percent black for wearing a black trench coat, black boots, a dog collar, chains and a glove. Henderson, who is black, said there weren’t racial tensions at the school and didn’t believe they were a factor in the shooting.

SuccessTech Academy, with about 240 students, is an alternative high school in the public school district that stresses technology and entrepreneurship. Six percent of the students are white and 9 percent Hispanic. About 5 percent of the students have disabilities, and all are poor under federal poverty guidelines.

Maureen Harper, a city spokeswoman, said Sanders will give the mayor a plan by noon today to address whether additional security measures are needed at the school and how the school identifies potential problems among students.

A preliminary investigation found that Coon entered the school in a five-story converted office building, and went to a fourth-floor bathroom, where he changed clothes and took items out of a duffel bag, possibly the weapons, and put them on his body, McGrath said.

Coon shot a student, then went to a classroom and shot a teacher. While looking for a second teacher, he fired additional shots, wounding a teacher who was trying to help students to safety.

Police found the two guns, .22- and .38-caliber revolvers, a box of ammunition for each and three tactical folding knives, all on or near Coon’s body, the police chief said.

Coon’s family declined to comment Thursday.