Another San Diego Area School Shooting

Friday, March 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EL CAJON, Calif. (AP) - The 18-year-old student accused of wounding five people at his high-school is a powerfully built loner intimidating enough be called ``The Rock,'' a boy one neighbor said was fascinated with guns.
But Jason Hoffman also is known as a kid so concerned about his schoolwork that he got upset with classmates who didn't pull their weight on projects and stewed about earning enough credits to graduate.
As this community struggled with the second high-school shooting in three weeks, a conflicted picture emerged of a troubled teen who may or may not have shown the oft-discussed signs that are supposed to warn educators and peers that violence is about to erupt.
``He had this hate-the-world walk,'' 18-year-old Sean Connacher told The San Diego Union-Tribune. ``This is a kid who didn't get picked on very often because most of the kids were afraid of him.''
Hoffman remained hospitalized Friday, recovering from wounds he got in a short gunbattle with police at Granite Hills High School, where three students and two teachers were wounded Thursday by shotgun fire.
The shooting came less than three weeks after a 15-year-old allegedly killed two classmates and wounded 13 others at Santana High in Santee, just seven miles away and part of the same school district.
This time, a community already weary of headlines and TV news truck quickly seized on one positive bit of a story that otherwise had a depressingly familiar air: a hero.
Police officer Richard Agundez, a former SWAT officer assigned to the campus, ran toward the shotgun blasts that rocked the campus during the middle of the school day and ended the attack by wounding the gunman.
``Agent Agundez is the hero of the day,'' Principal Georgette Torres said.
Hoffman was armed with a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun and a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun, authorities said.
Hospitalized with wounds to the jaw and buttocks, he wasn't immediately charged or interrogated. Prosecutors were considering charges ranging from assault to attempted murder, San Diego County District Attorney Paul Pfingst said.
Investigators hadn't determined a motive, Pfingst said. Authorities said the guns came from Hoffman's home, but they didn't provide details on whether they had been locked up.
Two boys, a girl and two female teachers were wounded by shotgun pellets. One boy remained hospitalized Friday, recovering from wounds to his chest, arm and head. A 61-year-old parent, who suffered chest pains rushing to the scene, was in critical condition.
Classes were canceled until Monday, but students were to be allowed on campus Friday afternoon to get their belongings.
Hoffman's family stayed out of the public eye, and few students seemed to know him well.
``The thing I got from him was that he never had friends,'' said Andrew Dunkel, an 18-year-old senior who has known Hoffman since elementary school and described him as always appearing upset.
Jiovani Guerrero, a junior who attended the 2,900-student Granite Hills High with Hoffman last year and now attends a different school, said Hoffman may have been upset about not getting enough credits to graduate this spring.
``He was supposed to graduate this spring, but that wasn't going to happen, Guerrero said.
Senior Chris Smith, said he saw the shooting and recognized Hoffman from his freshman gym class. ``He was one of those guys that wouldn't talk to anyone, even if you tried to talk to him,'' Smith, 18, told the Union-Tribune. ``He was always trying to start fights with people.''
Other students told the paper Hoffman was known as ``The Rock.''
Neighbors Dennis and Kelli Baker said the boy spent hours walking the neighborhood to get away from a troubled home life, and hung out in Baker's garage.
He was fascinated with the workings of such mechanical things as cars, boats and engines, Baker, a Navy instructor, told the Los Angeles Times. Read gun magazines and asked about guns.
``He did love his guns,'' Kelli Baker said.