SANTEE, Calif. (BP)–Two Southern Baptist teenagers were among the 13 students injured when a 15-year-old gunman opened fire at Santana High School on March 5, killing two people.
Travis Tate-Gallegos, 15, and James Jackson, 15, are members of Pathways Community Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Santee, Calif. Tate-Gallegos was shot in the mouth and Jackson was shot in the head. Both are expected to make full recoveries from their injuries, according to a church spokesperson.
Several hundred church members gathered Monday night to pray for the students as well as their families. In addition, the church provided professional Christian counselors to assist the 100-plus members of the church’s youth group.
James Merritt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church, Snellville, called on all Southern Baptists to pray for Tate-Gallegos, Jackson, as well as the other victims of the March 5 tragedy.
“Our prayers should go out to the families of those who were killed and the two young students who were Southern Baptists,” Merritt said. “I call on our entire Southern Baptist family to pray for their parents and pray that God would heal their injuries.”
Merritt also encouraged believers to pray for Charles Andrew Williams, the 15-year-old suspect charged with murder. “He is in deep spiritual and psychological need,” Merritt said. “He needs the Savior. We should also pray for his parents. They are going through a tremendous ordeal.”
Police, meanwhile, looked for answers to explain why threats from a boy they called “an angry young man” went unheeded before the high school freshman allegedly carried a gun to school and opened fire, killing two classmates.
“He was telling us how he was going to bring a gun to school … but we thought he was joking,” 15-year-old Neil O’Grady told The Los Angeles Times. “We were like, ‘Yeah, right.'”
Friends even searched Williams when he arrived at Santana High School in the San Diego suburb of Santee on the morning of March 5 — but didn’t search his backpack and missed the .22-caliber handgun he apparently had hidden there. At least one adult said he had heard the threats, and also thought the boy was joking.
That, said Assistant San Diego County Sheriff Tom Zoll, was problematic. “The kids hear these things, and there’s not a big secret around, but nobody seems to take it to any of the adults to get action taken because nobody takes them seriously,” Zoll told The Times.
But Zoll added that the circumstances around the Santee shooting were not unique.
“I’m not particularly surprised because I believe that this is the pattern in these types of school instances,” he said.
Classes were canceled on Tuesday at Santana High School, and authorities set up counseling sessions at a nearby church for stricken students and their parents.
On Monday, chaos spilled out of the hallways and onto the school’s grounds after at least 30 gunshots devastated the morning routine. In the aftermath, 14-year-old Brian Zuckor was dead at the school, and 14 other people — including two adult employees of the school — were wounded.
One of the wounded students, 17-year-old Randy Gordon, died later of his injuries at Grossmont Hospital.
Within minutes of the shooting, police had taken Williams into custody, cornering him in the bathroom where the shooting began.
The 15-year-old gave up willingly, authorities said, dropping to his knees and telling police, “It’s only me,” when asked if there were more shooters.
Tate-Gallegos was walking down a hallway when the shooting started, according to The Times’ report.
His friend, Barry Gibson, 18, turned around and saw Tate-Gallegos tumble to the ground.
Racing back, Gibson found Tate-Gallegos rolled over on his side, spitting up blood from what turned out to be a gunshot wound to the mouth.
While Gibson was tending to his friend, the gunman shot him in the leg. Tate-Gallegos, still bleeding, struggled to his feet and ran for cover.
San Diego County District Attorney Paul Pfingst said Williams had made statements to authorities, but that he was not prepared to release the contents of those statements, The Times reported.
Earlier, San Diego Sheriff’s Department Lt. Jerry Lewis said Williams was “an angry young man” who targeted no particular group or individuals.
“It was somebody there that was convenient for him to shoot and he shot,” the officer said.
Pfingst said Williams would be arraigned March 7, charged as an adult with murder, assault with a deadly weapon and gun possession.
Zoll said that the Williams family was cooperative with the investigation and that he believed the boy’s father “didn’t have a clue that any of this was going to happen.”
But Michael Sise, director of the trauma unit at Scripps Mercy Hospital that treated some of the wounded from the shooting said that trauma care personnel aren’t surprised by such incidents.
“We have a culture of violence in this country,” Sise told The Times. “Half of the homes have firearms in them … and if troubled teens have access to those weapons, it leads to deadly consequences.”
Secretary of Education Rod Paige, in a prepared statement, expressed concern about the culture of violence in the nation.
“I urge every parent and every student to listen closely to children who express concern, anger or fear concerning their school, their teachers, and their classmates,” Paige said. “All Americans should be concerned that a tragedy like this can take place. We must all work together to do everything we can to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future.”