CARLSBAD — Little 8-year-old Andy was eating his lunch in the cafeteria on Friday when he heard the first shot fired from a crazed gunman who blasted six bullets into the playground scattered with children at Kelly Elementary School at 4885 Kelly Drive.
The gunfire caused injuries to two second-grade girls, who were airlifted to Rady Children’s Hospital with nonlife-threatening wounds to their arms, according to Lt. Kelly Cain of the Carlsbad Police Department.
The suspect is 41-year-old Brendan L. O’Rourke, who was arrested at 12:12 p.m., according to Carlsbad Police.
No lives were lost to the horrific event that caused parents and community members to wait in anguish as the 450-student grade school was sent into lockdown mode for nearly three hours.
Police units and crime scene tape barricaded the school and part of the quiet neighborhood on Kelly Drive.
The fact that a gunman had jumped over the school’s fence and fired a lethal weapon into the playground was unexpected and unimaginable to parents, who clamored around the scene while waiting for updates and to scoop up their children and go home.
“I can’t comprehend why someone would do that,” said Andy Fulenwider, who rushed home from work when his wife called him and told him of the ordeal.
Fulenwider said his kindergarten daughter had been picked up by her babysitter at 11:15 a.m., before the shooting happened.
He said his family has only lived in the neighborhood for a year, and moved there because of its quality reputation.
As word spread through media outlets, parents were informed to pick up their children at Laguna Rivera Park, which is behind the school, after the lockdown on the school was released.
“I heard a big boom,” Andy said as he described the shooting after he had been picked up by his family at about 3:20 p.m.
“I thought it was Camp Pendleton,” he said.
The neighboring military base routinely practices artillery training and such and the sound of explosives is no stranger to North County residents.
But Andy realized the noise of booms wasn’t coming from Camp Pendleton when he said he saw kids running and two construction workers hit the gunman with their shovels.
Authorities confirmed that three men had been working on a construction project on campus when they heard shots fired followed by screams of children, and the men took immediate action and apprehended the suspect.
Steven Kane, Mario Contreras and Carlos Partida, all of Chula Vista, were the witnesses who stopped the shooter as he ran toward his vehicle.
“As Kane and Contreras chased O’Rourke, he appeared to be attempting to reload his handgun,” Cain said of the suspect.
The other construction worker, Partida, jumped into his own vehicle and drove to the east side of the school near the playground, where the shooter had parked his car and was trying to escape.
Partida then struck the suspect with his truck and knocked him to the ground, Cain said.
The three men, whom police are calling Good Samaritans, tackled the man and held him down until authorities arrived.
O’Rourke was arrested shortly after the episode, and officials said that he was believed to be the only person involved in the shooting.
O’Rourke was taken to the Carlsbad Police Department for questioning, and after complaining of having back and neck injuries was transported for treatment and then released for booking, Cain said.
The gunman was booked into the Vista Detention Facility on six counts of attempted murder and numerous violations involving weapons.
Officials said the San Diego County Sheriff Bomb Squad located a propane tank next to O’Rourke’s vehicle when they responded to the scene, along with a gas can the suspect had taken onto the playground.
No other explosive devices or hazardous materials were found near his vehicle, according to police.
The two female victims, ages 6 and 7, were both reported to have through-and-through bullet wounds to their arms.
No other victims were reported.
But the family, friends and neighbors who responded to the melee all became emotional victims of the senseless act of violence.
Joan Bray, a teacher at the school, was caravanning at 12:20 p.m. back to the school from a field trip with 37 students and nine parents when she was realized something had happened.
“We were turning left and saw a police car turn in and a fire engine follow us,” she said.
She was able to park near the school, but behind the yellow crime scene tape that blocked off the entrance to the school on Kelly Drive.
As her van-full of students unloaded, one of them spotted his father, a local police officer who was working on scene.
“Dad!” yelled the young boy to his uniformed father.
The two ran toward each other and hugs and smiles ensued.
“It’s really hard,” Bray said as she absorbed the news and looked at the dozens of police cars, news vans, cameras and people who lined the street in anticipation of what had happened.
Shortly after 3 p.m. the students were released to their parents at the Park Drive location, and they rushed out to their families.
Several fathers dressed in casual business attire, and some in suits, had left work early and darted to the school to pick up their kids.
Many parents declined interviews, as worry showed on their faces.
One young boy hunched over the curb and clutched his stomach before he could get into the car with his mother.
“Does your stomach hurt?” she asked him.
Andy’s family was among the group of people walking with their kids after the area was deemed safe and students were allowed out of the classrooms.
Andy’s mother said that she was at home when her mother-in-law called her and said that she had received a phone call from a client who told her there was a shooting at Kelly school.
Linda Anderson is Andy’s grandmother, a local realtor, who broke the news of the shooting to Andy’s family.
“I was terrified,” Andy’s mother said.
Andy talked in fast sentences about being the first kid to get to his classroom safely, while his parents stood by his side and listened intently to their son recount his experience.
By late night Friday, Carlsbad Police had issued a release that said earlier reports of the gunman carrying a jack-o-lantern while he shot at the kids were unfounded.
School was back in session on Monday and professional counselors were on the site to help students, staff and families deal with the residual effects of this near-tragedy, according to the Carlsbad Unified School District.
Green ribbons and balloons decorated the school’s fence upon the return to school and a family picnic was held where the construction workers were lauded as heroes.