Gunman Had Attended School He Assaulted : But Motive Remains Unclear in Attack

Times Staff Writers

Patrick Edward Purdy did not come to the grounds of Cleveland Elementary School as a complete stranger. The gunman who raked the school’s crowded playground with 110 rounds of rifle fire, killing five children and wounding 29 others and a teacher before taking his own life, had himself completed kindergarten through second grade at Cleveland, officials said Wednesday.

The significance of the discovery was not immediately clear. School records yielded nothing remarkable about Purdy’s experience there, only the normal academic promotions and mandatory vaccinations, but the connection did indicate that the midday attack Tuesday was not wholly random.

Purdy, an out-of-work welder who variously listed his age as 24 and 26, left behind no note or coherent explanation of his actions, and he conducted his attack in grim-faced silence.


Detectives seeking to determine Purdy’s motive were left Wednesday to pick through his bizarre personal effects and down-and-out past: a collection of toy soldiers arrayed in mock battle throughout Purdy’s motel room, symbols scribbled on camouflaged cloth, slogans printed on clothes and weapons, and a drifter’s resume of briefly held jobs and obsolete addresses.

“Why he did this we may never know,” said Capt. Dennis Perry, head of investigations for the Stockton Police Department. “We can only assume that some problem came up in this guy that made him do it.”

For the targets of Purdy’s spree, the day after was one of fear and incomprehension. Only 227 pupils, roughly one-fourth of the student body, showed up for classes. Officials had opened the school with the belief that it would be better for the children to deal quickly with their emotions.

Recovery Prospects

Dr. Mary Gonzales Mend, superintendent of the Stockton Unified School District, said it would “take a great deal of time to recover. And we will never recover fully.”

All 29 of the wounded students and the one wounded teacher appeared out of danger on Wednesday. A 6-year-old boy was in serious condition and 17 pupils and a teacher were in stable condition. The others were treated at hospitals or at the scene and were released. The psychic wounds will prove more troublesome, teachers feared.

“We’re going to have a problem with these kids for a long time,” Janet Geng, a Cleveland teacher who had been on yard duty when the shooting started, said Wednesday from her hospital bed at St. Joseph’s Medical Center. She had been fleeing to the schoolhouse with a child on each hand when a bullet shattered one of her knees. She expected to die as she lay on the ground and listened to the bullets whistling overhead and tearing into the asphalt beside her.


“To kids,” Geng said, “school is a safe place, but I guess it’s not anymore. . . . These kids, they are little and they just don’t understand.”

The children who did attend class Wednesday were greeted by escorts who guided them through a swarm 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.

Floral Bouquets

The front entrance of the school was decorated with bouquets of yellow gladioluses, purple mums and five red roses. Someone had placed there a pink teddy bear with angel’s wings. A banner stretched across the front of a neighboring house read: “Racists Are Ugly--Let’s Stop Them.”

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,” Perry said. “. . . I understand in some conversations he spoke about Vietnam, but he’s obviously too young to have gone to Vietnam.”

Jim Mickelsen, a 21-year-old welder who came to know Purdy last year when the men worked together for a month, had heard Purdy complain about the high percentage of Southeast Asian refugees in industrial arts courses he was taking at San Joaquin Delta College here.


“He didn’t like the idea of jobs being taken away,” Mickelsen said of Purdy, “and he didn’t like having to compete with them in classes.”

Mickelsen, however, said the resentment expressed by Purdy was common among the outnumbered white students in the classes, and he found it inconceivable that Purdy’s discontent with the Southeast Asian refugees was strong enough to promote the carnage of Tuesday.

“I don’t know what to think,” Mickelsen said, “to be honest with you. The guy wasn’t really happy. He wasn’t happy with life--and he did kill himself. And it’s possible he wanted to be known before he died, known for something like that.”

Purdy attended Cleveland Elementary from September, 1969, through November, 1972. Perry said all the records showed was that “he was there. He was promoted through the grades. He had all his shots. His health appeared to be good and normal.”

His relatives described the blond, lithesome Purdy as a loner who drank as a child and who was troubled by his father’s death about five years ago in an automobile accident.

“I don’t understand why and I probably won’t ever know why,” said Purdy’s grandmother, 63-year-old Julia Chumbley of Lodi.


Tuesday night, police investigators searched Purdy’s room at the El Rancho Motel in Lodi. He had checked into the $100-a-week motel, which sits by California 99 and advertises truck parking and “XXX movies,” on the day after Christmas and was paid up through Jan. 23.

Among other items, they found more than 100 plastic toy soldiers arrayed about the room, along with toy jeeps and tanks, in what appeared to be an imaginary battle scene. Perry said the figurines “were spread out through the entire room--up on top of the drapes, in the shower, one in the freezer, all over the place. . . . He obviously had a military hang-up of some kind.”

Relatives said Purdy’s father served as a Marine in Vietnam, but added that the son never seemed to take undue interest in his father’s combat experience.

Also in the motel room was a damaged .22-caliber rifle and a piece of cloth that was adorned with strange markings: hand-drawn caricatures of scowling faces and various cryptic symbols. While police officials could not explain what the symbols meant, they said the search in part had been for “anything that refers to satanic or problems like that.”

Police officials said Purdy’s arsenal and clothes also revealed odd markings. His ammunition bag was marked with the words “Freedom,” “humanoids” and “evil.” On the stock of his rifle was carved “Hezbollah,” the name of a pro-Iranian terrorist group. Printed on the front of a camouflage shirt he wore Tuesday were “PLO,” “Libya” and “Earthman.” “Freedom” and “Death to the Great Satin,” an apparently misspelled slogan favored by anti-American Iranians, were printed on the back.

Mental State

“It suggests that this guy may have had delusions of grandeur about Iran,” Perry said.

There was no indication that Purdy had ever received psychiatric treatment. As a youth, he was arrested on a number of relatively minor criminal charges.


Two years ago, Perry said, Purdy’s mother, identified by police Wednesday as Kathleen Toscano, reported him to Stockton police for allegedly vandalizing her car.

“For some reason,” the police official said, “he and his mother met at a drive-in restaurant (and) supposedly he and his half-brother committed some malicious mischief to the mother’s car. The mother reported them and said they wanted money for drugs, and she was tired of giving them money for drugs.”

Police said Toscano at the time listed her address as a Sacramento post office box. The official outcome of her complaint was not known.

Mickelsen said Purdy had told him that “when he was growing up he had a really rough time of it. His father died and his mom was an alcoholic, and he hadn’t seen her for years.”

Purdy, by trade a welder, worked in cities across America for short stints. An employment application was found in his motel room.

“He said he had lived in about every state in the nation, including Hawaii,” Mickelsen said.


Lived in Southern California

Court records indicate that Purdy lived in Southern California in the early 1980s. He was placed on probation in 1983 after police who stopped his car for showing improper registration discovered nunchaku sticks, a martial arts weapon, on the back seat. He told detectives he only kept the weapon “to mess around with,” and listed his employer as a Hollywood fast food outlet.

Records showed he also was arrested in West Hollywood at about the same time for possession of marijuana for sale and receiving stolen property.

A North Hollywood man who befriended Purdy in the early 1980s said he met the young man at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He said Purdy was unable to stay sober for more than two or three days at a time.

“If you are an alcoholic you have to be willing to stop drinking, to get help,” said the friend, who requested anonymity. “He wouldn’t stop drinking.”

The friend said Purdy used his address to collect mail. Purdy listed the same address on an employment application and it also appeared on a police arrest report for Purdy.

Purdy acted “like he was hurting inside,” the friend said. “Sometimes when you hurt inside you want to hurt others.”