VISTA — A school aide was the first witness to testify in court about how she heard popping noises and saw a man with a crazed look on his face chase children on the playground at Kelly Elementary School while he held a gas can in one hand and aimed an object in the other.
Brendan O’Rourke, 41, focused his attention on a notepad of paper that was on his lap while the testimony began Jan. 18 in the state case charging him with seven counts of premeditated attempted murder and seven counts of assault with a firearm for the Oct. 8, 2010, shooting at the Carlsbad elementary school.
He faces 103 years to life in prison, if convicted.
Lysette Cox spoke in crisp words as she answered to questions from the prosecutor.
“I heard three popping noises like a firecracker noise. I looked up to see where the noise was coming from.
“I saw a gunman chasing after two of our children. I saw him run directly after two of our children, with something in his hand. I ran after him to help stop him from chasing after two of our children. I heard two more popping noises,” she said.
Cox was working outdoors, and was on the blacktop supervising young children when the shooting began.
She said that at the same time she heard the popping noise, she saw that two girls were standing next to each other, about 22 feet from the shooter.
The distance was determined by a tape measure used in court to attain the number of feet between two points of furniture that Cox had specified.
“I heard one popping noise then an additional one. I said an expletive several times to get him to stop,” she said.
The small girls were running from him. They were zigzagging, she said.
The closest distance O’Rourke got to the girls was about 12 feet, Cox said.
“He was pointing an object at one particular girl,” she said.
After Cox yelled at the shooter and asked what he was doing and told him to stop — with curse words blended into her screams — she said that he turned away from the two children and headed toward her.
He came within an arm-and-a-half length of Cox, she said, and he pointed a gun and clicked it at her chest.
But the revolver jammed, said Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan at a previous court date when O’Rourke was arraigned.
“He got all six shots out of the revolver. Thankfully, one of the casings didn’t come out,” Stephan had said.
But he is accused of shooting his 357 Ruger revolver, which hit two girls, ages 6 and 7, and injured them each with through-and-through wounds on one arm, but not seriously injuring them.
One of the girls injured by a bullet was one of whom Cox spoke about.
Cox was asked if she saw the suspect in the courtroom and she said “yes” and identified O’Rourke as the man sitting in the defendant seat who was wearing glasses.
In continuing her testimony, Cox said that the shooter put down the gas can he had been holding in one hand, and reached in his pocket while an object was still in his other hand.
She said the object was a fairly large gun with a round barrel.
“I heard him state ‘F— AIG,’ to ‘kill Obama,’ and something about ‘Christians,’” she said.
Several days after the shooting Cox said she was visited by the Secret Service who questioned her about the things the suspect said.
As the shooter was rambling about AIG, President Obama and Christians, Cox backed away as she saw he was reloading his gun.
She told the kids to run.
“As we were running, we were able to get the kids into three different classrooms,” she said.
About 70 first- through third-graders were led to safety in room 10.
Good Samaritans tackled the defendant until police arrived.
Cox said she apologized to school officials for the words she had used during the melee.
Cox gave her testimony on Jan. 18 because she and her family are moving to England next week.
So Cox’s court testimony came during a conditional exam, which Superior Court Judge Runston Maino said was similar to a deposition in a civil case.
Her testimony was also videotaped but the judge said that does not mean it’s admissible in pre-trial or trial.
Deputy Public Defender Kathleen Cannon questioned Cox and asked her if the defendant appeared to have a crazed look on his face.
“Yes, he had a definite look on his face,” Cox said.
“A crazed look?” Cannon asked.
“Yes,” Cox said. “From my perspective.”