LOS ANGELES - A gun in a 10th grader's backpack discharged Tuesday when he dropped the bag, wounding two students at a high school, including one who remained in critical condition, police said.
Both teens were hit with the same bullet, Los Angeles deputy police chief Patrick Gannon said.
John Deasy, deputy superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said there was no indication the student with the backpack had touched the gun before it discharged.
"He literally dropped his knapsack on the desk and it went off," Deasy said.
Gannon said the student apologized before running to another classroom.
"He said, 'I'm sorry,' when the gun went off. It made it appear to the teacher that it was an accident," Gannon said.
Still, Los Angeles police Lt. John Pasquariello said it was a crime to bring a gun to campus. The unidentified student was arrested and charges were pending, he said.
"We don't know exactly what happened," Pasquariello said. "Traditionally, guns don't go off without someone's finger on the trigger."
A 15-year-old girl suffered a skull fracture and bruising to the brain and developed a significant blood clot when the bullet grazed her skull.
The blood clot was removed successfully, but the girl remained sedated and in critical condition, said Dr. James Ausman, a neurosurgeon at Los Angeles County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. The girl's family was by her side.
A 15-year-old boy was in fair condition after being shot in the neck in a classroom at Gardena High School, a sprawling, 1950s-era school with rows of barracks-like classrooms
The shooting occurred in a classroom at the school, where Principal Rudy Mendoza said students were on a break at the time. The campus was locked down after the incident. Police initially reported a shooter was at large.
Student Semaj Elan was in an adjacent classroom when the shooting occurred.
"My friend came up to me in the classroom talking about how she almost got shot. They're gonna be traumatized by that," Elan said.
Numerous law enforcement agencies responded to the 2,400-student campus about 15 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
Nelda Robledo, one of the worried parents who gathered near the school, said her 16-year-old daughter texted her that students were ordered to get down on the ground or hide in a corner after the shooting.
If the student is released on bail, the school will recommend to the district disciplinary office that he be suspended, district spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry said. The office also could recommend expulsion, which would have to be approved by the school board.
Expelled students are referred to the Los Angeles County Office of Education to complete their education.
Shedric Porter, 14, said he was walking past the classroom at the time.
"I didn't see anything, but I heard the shot, and it was really loud," he said. "I stopped. I was scared. Then I thought it was just a book or something hitting the ground, but it was too loud for that."
It's unclear how the student got in with the gun in his backpack, Pollard-Terry said.
Arriving students are checked with security wands on a random basis at Gardena High, she said. No district school is equipped with walkthrough metal detectors.
Several parents said their children had described racial tension at the school.
"There's usually fights everyday, you're going to see blacks against whites and whites against blacks every single day," said Christy Westbrooks, whose 16-year-old daughter attends the school. "Spanish, whites, Samoans - they don't care what race."
Discipline has long been a problem at Gardena, which ranks as one of the district's lowest-performing high schools. Roughly 35 percent of students drop out.
Five years ago, more than 2,000 students were suspended, and 15 students were expelled. Those figures remained high until last year when the number of suspensions dropped to 300 and expulsions to two.
Forming a discipline committee was one of the principal's goals for this year, according to the school's website.
Frantic parents rushed to the school after hearing about the shooting. They paced nervously as they waited behind police tapes for word from their children.
"I've never heard of anything like this before," said Thomas Hill, whose 16-year-old and 18-year-old children attend the school.
Cynthia Cano, 15, said she was in a Mexican-American social studies class when an announcement was made that the school was in lockdown.
"We heard someone got shot. Everyone was freaking out a little," she said in a telephone interview from inside the campus.
Gardena High School was the scene of a shooting in February 2002, when three assailants tried to hold up two students in an outdoor area. Two students were shot.
In the past five years, two students have been expelled for firearms violations at Gardena High.