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Witnesses say 14-year-old suspended for fighting; records indicate mental problems


CLEVELAND -- A 14-year-old suspended student opened fire in his downtown high school Wednesday, wounding four people as terrified schoolmates hid in closets and bathrooms and huddled under laboratory desks. He then killed himself.

A fellow student at SuccessTech Academy alternative school said Asa H. Coon, who was suspended for fighting two days earlier, had made threats in front of students and teachers last week.

"He's crazy. He threatened to blow up our school. He threatened to stab everybody," Doneisha LeVert said. "We didn't think nothing of it."

Armed with two revolvers, Coon fired eight shots and may have targeted teachers, said Police Chief Michael McGrath. Police found a duffel bag stocked with ammunition and three knives in a bathroom but found no suicide note, he said.

Parents were angry that firearms got into a school equipped with metal detectors that students said were intermittently used.

Coon had a history of mental health problems and threatened to commit suicide last year while in a mental health center, according to Juvenile Court records obtained by the Plain Dealer.

He spent time in two juvenile facilities after a domestic violence episode and was also given home detention, and he was suspended from school last year for trying to injure a student, the paper reported.

Officials said two teachers and two students were shot, and that a 14-year-old girl fell and hurt her knee while running out of the school.

Witnesses said the shooter moved through the converted five-story downtown office building, working his way up through the first two floors of administrative offices to the third floor of classrooms. Officials said he was wearing a Marilyn Manson concert shirt and black jeans and had black-painted fingernails.

The first person shot, student Michael Peek, had punched Coon in the face right before the shootings began, said student Rasheem Smith, 15.

Coon "came out of the bathroom and bumped Mike and he (Mike) punched him in his face. Mike started walking. He shot Mike in the side." Peek, 14, didn't know Coon had a gun, Smith said.

Darnell Rodgers, 18, was walking up to another floor when the stairway suddenly became flooded with students.

"It took me a couple of minutes to realize that I was actually shot. When I felt my arm burning in the area, that's when I realized that I had got shot," Rodgers said.

Rodgers was released from a hospital after treatment for a graze wound to his right elbow.

Coon had been suspended since Monday for fighting near the school that day, said Charles Blackwell, president of SuccessTech's student-parent organization. He did not know how Coon got into the building Wednesday.

Math teacher David Kachadourian, 57, was in good condition after being shot; Michael Grassie, a 42-year-old teacher, was in surgery, but his condition was unavailable. The other two injured teens were taken to a children's hospital, which would not release their names, ages or conditions.

People at Coon's home declined to comment Wednesday evening.The shooting occurred across the street from the FBI office in downtown Cleveland, and students were being sent to the FBI site.

Classes at all schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District will be canceled Thursday, said Eugene Sanders, chief executive officer of the district. Counseling will be available Thursday for students at recreation centers throughout the city, Sanders said.

SuccessTech Academy is an alternative high school in the public school district that stresses technology and entrepreneurship. It is housed on several floors of the district's downtown Cleveland Lakeside Avenue administration building.

"It's a shining beacon for the Cleveland Metropolitan School system," said John Zitzner, founder and president of E City Cleveland, a nonprofit group aimed at teaching business skills to inner-city teens. "It's orderly, it's disciplined, it's calm, it's focused."

The school has about 240 students, most of them black, with a small number of white and Hispanic students.

Coon was white, and Henderson, the student who said she frequently argued with him, is black, but she said she didn't believe race played a role in the shootings.

The school, opened five years ago, ranks in the middle of the state's ratings for student performance. Its graduation rate is 94 percent, well above the district's rate of 55 percent.