The obvious warning signs were all there: a troubled, violent young man who had been teased by peers and vowed revenge, who fit the stereotypical image of a "goth" loner and who warned some peers that he would shoot up his school.
Asa Coon, 14, the young man who went on a shooting spree at Cleveland's SuccessTech Academy on Wednesday morning fit the profile we've come to know from previous deadly school shootings. Schoolmates told CNN that after Coon was beaten up on Monday for saying "F--- God" during an argument with another student, he threatened, "I got something for y'all" (see "14-Year-Old Gunman Shoots Four, Commits Suicide At Cleveland High School").
Luckily for the students and parents of SuccessTech — a magnet school for kids interested in technology and business that requires an application, entrance essay and recommendations from middle school teachers — no bystanders were killed during Coon's shooting spree, which ended with him committing suicide.
In a press conference on Thursday, Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath described some of the chaos in Coon's home, which he said police had visited five times since last year for incidents involving domestic violence, assault and a hit-skip accident. McGrath did not specify which incidents Coon was involved in and did not explain how the young man came to possess the .22- and .38-caliber pistols he used in the shooting; he said the guns, two boxes of ammunition and three knives were found near the boy's body.
Cleveland's The Plain Dealer reported that Coon's 19-year-old brother, Stephen, who was recently released from prison and wears a monitoring device on his ankle, was arrested on Thursday. Stephen Coon was arrested Monday in connection with a theft on his street but taken to a juvenile detention center and released; he was arrested Thursday in connection with the theft and a possible parole violation. He had spent two years in prison for burglary, intimidation, sale of counterfeit drugs, assault, attempted assault and weapons charges, and was released in August, according to the paper.
While officials have not said definitively what might have set Asa Coon off, neighbors told CNN that the young man had been constantly teased and may have snapped because of the bullying. "Shut up, shut up! I hate this school!" Coon said as he began firing, according to an account given to The New York Times by a SuccessTech sophomore who was in a fourth-floor classroom during the spree. The 5-foot-5-inch teen was described in 911 calls as a "kind of chubby" goth who wore long black trench coats and black fingernail polish and was often mocked by his peers for his style of dress, prompting him to brag frequently about his plans to target those who teased him. As a white teen who dressed in black clothing, a dog collar and chains at a predominantly black school, Coon stood out among his peers, according to reports.
According to the Times, court records show that Coon's mother called police after he slapped her and swore at her when she tried to break up a fight between him and his twin sister in February 2006. A juvenile-court magistrate said Coon was ordered to anger-management sessions and he continued to be abusive toward his mother, at one point ramming his body into his mother's head during a meeting with his probation officer.
Records also show that he was rushed to the hospital a month later following a suicide attempt at a mental health facility he'd been sent to after he was charged with domestic violence in the altercation with his mom. He was suspended for 10 days in April 2006 for trying to injure another student and Cleveland CBS affiliate WOIO TV also reported that court records show that Coon exhibited bipolar tendencies and that he refused to take medication for his condition.
According to McGrath's account of Wednesday's events, Asa Coon entered the school Wednesday afternoon, went up to a fourth-floor bathroom, changed clothes and likely removed the weapons he'd stashed in a duffel bag that was later found by police. As Coon, wearing black jeans and a black Marilyn Manson T-shirt, exited the bathroom he ran into another student, first shooting victim Michael Peek, 14, who punched Coon in the face and was then shot in the side as Coon began to unload his guns.
Coon then proceeded to a classroom and shot a teacher. He exited that room and began looking for another teacher, and while doing so, he fired rounds at another teacher trying to help students, striking him in the back. Police believe Coon was seeking two particular teachers who might have played a role in his suspension for the fight outside the school on Monday. All of the shootings took place on the fourth floor of the building, where McGrath said police had responded to 15 incidents since October 2006, most of which were assaults.
The head of the school's parent-teacher organization, Charles Blackwell, told CNN that the parents' group had repeatedly asked for more security at SuccessTech for the past several years, but had been told the school was too small and not the source of enough problems to warrant increased patrols. Blackwell said the parents also petitioned for metal detectors and were told the academy didn't need them because of its size — it houses only 250 students. Fox News reported that the Cleveland school district uses a system of rotating metal detectors at its schools, putting them where they are most needed and that SuccessTech was not considered a priority.
Student Rasheem Smith told CBS' "Early Show" that students had tried to warn the school's principal about threats from Coon, but that she said she was too busy to meet with them to discuss the issue.
A police spokesperson said the two male teachers who were shot in the incident, 57-year old David Kachadourian and an unidentified 42-year-old man, had both undergone surgery and were doing well. The other two teenage victims were in good condition and were released on Thursday; a fifth was treated and released Wednesday.
While the Cleveland high school was still coming to grips with the shooting, a chillingly related development took place in Pennsylvania on Thursday when police arrested a teen, also age 14, for what is being described as a planned Columbine-style school shooting at a high school, according to CNN. The boy, who has not been identified, was taken into custody after authorities discovered a 9mm rifle with a laser scope, dozens of air guns that fire BBs, an operational hand grenade and other grenades that were in the process of being built at his home in Plymouth Township, near Philadelphia. They also seized other bomb-making equipment and additional weapons, while a hand-painted Nazi flag and a video about the Columbine shootings were also found in his room.
On Friday (October 12), police charged the boy's mother, Michele Cossey, with buying three weapons for her son: a .22-caliber handgun, a .22-caliber rifle and a 9 mm semiautomatic rifle. Police said Thursday that she had purchased the assault rifle at a gun show and that no ammunition was found for it. They also said the boy had been making grenades in his bedroom, and that they were investigating if his mother had bought him black powder used in the grenades. Authorities believe the boy bought the plastic casings for the grenades online and said the operational grenades included black powder, BBs and what is believed to be a fireworks fuse.
"It is my judgment that this individual considered that something to be glorified and was doing so," District Attorney Bruce Castor said, according to CNN.
The boy is due to appear in juvenile court on Friday and will face charges that might include making terroristic threats, weapons possession, criminal solicitation, and possession and manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction. He could face jail time and counseling if he's found delinquent, and his mother and father might also face criminal charges.
Police told CNN they had acted on a tip received Wednesday that they believe was prompted by the Cleveland school shooting. The tip was submitted by a Plymouth Whitemarsh High School student and his father — the 14-year-old does not attend the school; he is taught at home.
Classes are not being canceled at Plymouth Whitemarsh High, which has 1,591 students in grades nine through 12.
[This story was originally published at 9:20 pm E.T. on 10.11.2007]