After telling disbelieving friends all weekend that he was going to shoot up the school where he was taunted for being skinny, a smiling 15-year-old boy opened fire in his high school, killing two teenagers and injuring 13 other people.
It was the worst act of violence at an American school since the April 20, 1999 attack by two teenage gunmen at Columbine high School in Colorado in which 15 people were killed and it threw this San Diego suburb of 58,000 into shock and panic.
A stunned Santee Mayor Randy Voepel told a news conference: "I've been mayor for nine weeks and if I was mayor for 900 years, it would not prepare me for this moment ... We're a town of little leagues, soccer, community meetings ... and this is one of our children."
He added, "This could happen in any town in America if it could happen in a town such as Santee. We are America." Santee is a suburb of San Diego.
The shooting was the latest of more than a dozen incidents of gun violence to have claimed casualties in American schools in recent years, including multiple killings in Oregon, Arkansas, and Kentucky, as well as Colorado.
Police said the suspect - a high school freshman treated like a weakling by some of his classmates because of his small frame and scrawny looks - used a .22 caliber revolver, which he reloaded once after emptying its chambers to shot people at random in a hallway and boys' bathroom of Santana high School.
At first the students at the 1,900-pupil school thought a cap pistol was going off. But as students fell bleeding, they realized it was a gun and they started fleeing the school in droves.
As they were ran one way screaming, San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy Ali Perez and three other officers headed the other way - where they cornered the unidentified teenage gunman in a boys' restroom. He gave up without incident.
"When we found him, he was inside the bathroom in a kneeling position with his hands out (holding) the butt of the gun. He dropped it and surrendered," Perez told reporters.
Then when the boy heard that police were searching for a possible second suspect, Perez said, "He looked up from the bathroom floor and said 'It's only me.'"Off-duty San Diego police officer Robert Clark, who was at the school to register his daughter, took part in the arrest and said he found two shot students in the stalls of the bathroom - one who was conscious and speaking and the other "unresponsive."
Police said two of the shooting victims were killed. They were identified as Brian Zuckor, 14, and Randy Gordon, 15. One student reportedly died at the scene of the attack. The other died later at a local hospital.
A QUIET SUBURB
The shooting just before 9:30 a.m. PST (12:30 p.m. EST/1730 GMT) at Santana High School in this suburb about 10 miles (16 kms) northeast of San Diego.
The shooter had apparently told several friends over the weekend of his plans but no one believed him or reported him to authorities, according to accounts from students.
Police said they were still investigating and would not comment. Although they said the youth would be charged as an adult with murder, they declined to reveal his name.
Josh Stevens, 15, who identified himself as the boy's closest friend, told local television stations that the youth joked all weekend that he was going to go to school and shoot people. "He had it all planned out but at the end of the weekend he said he was just joking. I would never have thought he would have had the nerve to do it."
Another friend, Neil O'Grady said the youth was always picked on at school because "he's scrawny. He was telling us how he would bring a gun to school and we thought he was joking." Witnesses to the shooting said he was "grinning" or "smiling" as he fired.
Chris Reynolds, an adult who knew the alleged shooter, said the boy began talking about the violent plan over the weekend and that he even frisked him before he left for school but found nothing.
"Everybody kind of thought he was joking around," Reynolds told a television reporter from local station KGTV.
Reynolds said the suspect was often the butt of jokes at school, but that he usually replied with a joke and smile. "He's a kid who gets picked on a lot because he does not stand up for himself. Most of the time he just takes it. He is joking around about it ... I didn't think he was serious."
POLICE SEARCH FOR MOTIVE
San Diego County Sheriff William Kolender said. "We do not know the motivation. We do not know the motive at this point."
President George W. Bush decried the shooting as "a disgraceful act of cowardice," while Calif. Gov. Gray Davis and his wife Sharon expressed sorrow and horror over the attack - noting that Santana High School was Sharon Davis' alma mater.
San Diego County District Attorney Paul Pfingst said that the boy would be arraigned Wednesday and would face charges in adult court thanks to California's Prop. 21, a youth crime initiative voters passed last year. It mandates adult trials for juveniles 14 or older charged with murder or specified sex crimes.
"Obviously in light of the fact there are a number of deceased, we are looking at murder as the most serious charge," Pfingst told a news conference. "This is is a sad day for all of us."
"I THOUGHT IT WAS FIRECRACKERS BUT IT WASN'T"Student Amy Barney said the shooting came as a surprise. "I thought it was firecrackers but it wasn't, it was bullets," Barney said. "I saw a guy laying on the ground, and then I started hearing things. All my friends were like running and I was like, where is everyone going?"
Alicia Zimmer, another student at the school, told KGTV that the gunshots broke out as classes were changing. "I was probably about 10 feet away from a couple of the victims ... it was in the middle of the hall, the small quad .... I saw a victim, a boy, laying on the floor, with his face downward. There was another girl standing there with blood all over her arms," Zimmer said.
"A lot of people were standing around in a circle looking at the girl ... all of a sudden we heard more shots go off. It sounded more like a cap gun than anything."
"It was really scary. Everybody was running. A whole lot of people were crying."