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Gunman Attended School He Turned Into War Zone : Killer of 5 a ‘Normal Student’

Times Staff Writers

Patrick Edward Purdy, who turned a powerful assault rifle on a crowded school playground Tuesday, killing five children and wounding 29 more, had been a student at the school from kindergarten through third grade, officials said today.

The revelation’s significance was not immediately clear, although it appeared to suggest that the attack at Cleveland Elementary was not altogether random. Police officials said they still had not determined what set off Purdy, a troubled drifter in his mid-20s with a history of relatively minor brushes with the law.

The midday attack, which lasted only minutes, ended when Purdy mortally wounded himself in the head with a pistol, leaving his motive unexplained.

“I don’t understand why, and I probably won’t ever know why,” said Purdy’s grandmother, 63-year-old Julia Chumbley, who lives nearby in Lodi. Other relatives described Purdy as a child alcoholic and a loner who had bounced across America, looking for work as a welder.

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Cleveland Elementary was in session today, although only a little more than 200 pupils--roughly one-fourth of the student body--showed up for classes.

Those who did attend were greeted at the school by escorts who guided them through a thicket of reporters and cameras. Counselors were stationed in each classroom to help the children come to grips with the horror of the previous day. Each child was given a stuffed animal at the principal’s office. Teachers said they did not know what to expect.

“I’ll just try to get through the day,” said Vicki Braga, who teaches fourth grade.

The front entrance of the school was decorated with bouquets of yellow gladioli, purple mums and five red roses. Someone also had placed there a pink teddy bear with angel’s wings. A banner stretched across the front said “Racists are ugly--let’s stop them.”

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The banner’s message enunciated an early suspicion that the racial composition of the student body might have contributed to Purdy’s motivation. More than 600 of the 980 students are the sons and daughters of refugees from Southeast Asia.

Police, however, said there was as yet no evidence that race played a role.

“Whether he had some feelings against the Southeast Asian community as a whole, we haven’t determined that,” said Stockton Police Capt. Dennis Perry.

Investigators had not yet determined if any teachers at Cleveland Elementary were there when Purdy was in attendance from 1969 to 1973.

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His record at the school showed “normal behavior,” officials said. He transferred out in the third grade to a school in Sacramento.

Police investigators last night searched the Lodi motel room where Purdy had been staying. He had checked in the day after Christmas, and was paid up through Jan. 23.

They found more than 100 plastic toy soldiers arrayed about the room, along with toy jeeps and tanks, in what appeared to be a imaginary battle scene.

“What the significance is, I don’t know,” Perry said. “He obviously had a military hang-up of some kind.”

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