Escalating Hate Reportedly Consumed Gunman
Patrick Edward Purdy, who this week attacked a school playground with a military rifle, killing five Southeast Asian refugee children and himself, was consumed by an indiscriminate and apparently escalating hatred for all people, police officials and others familiar with the troubled young drifter said Thursday.
While Purdy was known to make surly comments about the Southeast Asian refugees flooding into this San Joaquin Valley town, a police investigator said it appeared race played no role in Purdy’s selection of targets for his Tuesday attack in which 30 people were wounded.
“Through his lifetime, Mr. Purdy developed a hatred for everybody,” Capt. Dennis Perry, head of investigations for the Stockton Police Department, said Thursday. " . . . Whoever he happened to be talking about, he didn’t like. He disliked not just one race, but all races.”
Perry said Purdy had “problems” with abuse of alcohol and marijuana. Court records indicated that Purdy twice attempted suicide in 1987 after being jailed for firing a pistol in the woods near Lake Tahoe. Found among his possessions then was a racist manual on guns and killing, and a psychological counselor described Purdy as “a hazard to himself and others.”
At Cleveland Elementary School, where the counselor’s prophecy was realized Tuesday in Purdy’s apocalyptic, four-minute attack, children were being guided gently through the psychic trauma. Officials said 674 of the school’s 940 students were back in class Thursday, still isolated from most outsiders and undergoing grief counseling by more than 100 doctors, psychologists and therapists.
School official John Klose likened the atmosphere at Cleveland Elementary to an “emergency room.”
“We have some healing going on,” he said.
Investigators hold out little hope of pinpointing what provoked Purdy’s assault on the school, which he attended from kindergarten through second grade.
“We’ll never know everything because he didn’t leave us a message or a note,” Perry said. " . . . In a way, he beat us because he did not tell us why he did it.”
While the precise motive remained a mystery, the dark patterns in Purdy’s life that led toward his one-man invasion of the elementary school were clear Thursday.
Police investigators, co-workers, relatives, teachers and acquaintances all painted essentially the same portrait. It was the portrait of a loner with a troubled past and sometimes-violent tendencies, a young man who was unwilling to accept authority, was prone to self-delusion, filled with self-loathing and fascinated by weaponry.
In the neighborhood of tract homes where he lived as a boy, about half a mile from the schoolyard where he ended his life, Purdy was recalled as a child who once ran down the street with a large kitchen knife.
Frank Cappalla, who still lives around the corner from Purdy’s former home, remembered how Purdy, then 8, objected when he disarmed him.
“ ‘You can’t take that. It’s my mother’s,’ ” he quoted Purdy as saying. “I said, ‘If your mother wants it, she can come and get it.’ She never did.”
Purdy’s family moved from Stockton when he was in third grade, eventually settling at Lake Tahoe. Purdy was placed in a continuation high school for low achievers, and teachers there Thursday remembered him well.
“He never hung around with girls or other students,” said Michael Makely, a teacher at the Mt. Tallec school. “In fact, you never saw him with other human beings.
“He was a loner. He’d sit in class wearing his big green Army fatigue jacket, and he wouldn’t participate. I think he felt inadequate. He was so withdrawn. Looking back on it, we think he was sniffing glue or smoking dope because he was real spacey. . . . I am not surprised this was the kid that did this thing.”
Along Stockton’s Skid Row, Purdy was known as someone who tried to persuade people that he had served in Vietnam and who boasted of having bought a gun.
Purdy apparently would take rooms in Skid Row hotels in between job-finding journeys to cities across the United States. Police detectives have built a long list of former Purdy employers and recipients of his job applications. People who worked with him remembered Purdy for his bad attitude.
“He expressed hatred, anger and bitterness at just about anybody who asked him to do anything,” said Steve Sloan, 29, who worked with Purdy on the night shift for a month at a machine shop here. “Every time you tried to explain something, he looked like he wanted to jump on you.”
Purdy’s scrape with the law in Lake Tahoe, one of several relatively minor criminal incidents found on his record, occurred 16 months ago in Camp Richardson on the southern end of the lake.
Deputies who responded to the sound of shooting found Purdy with a 9-millimeter pistol. Told his gunplay was illegal, Purdy became defiant.
“He started talking about how it was his duty to help the suppressed and to overthrow the suppressor,” an officer’s report on the incident stated. “He then stepped back and closed his hand in a fist and took up a fighting stance.”
Purdy, the officer reported, raged further that “he was no longer going to be pushed around. He talked about how he would kill anyone who pushed him around and how it was his right.”
Detained in the jail drunk tank, Purdy ripped off his shirt and attempted to employ it as a noose. Later, he tried to cut his wrists with his finger and toenails, according to sheriff’s records.
He was then transferred to an El Dorado County mental health unit for observation but was eventually released.
Purdy was receiving federal disability payments for what a Social Security official termed “some type of mental impairment.” It was not clear when he began receiving the payment or for what reason.
In addition to the powerful AK-47 assault rifle Purdy purchased in Oregon and wielded at Cleveland Elementary, investigators have turned up at least five other weapons purchases by him in the past five years. Almost all were for semiautomatic pistols, including the one he used Tuesday to take his own life on the school playground.
All the weapons purchases were legal, police said.
Asked if, given Purdy’s past brushes with law, Stockton police might have been made aware of the menace he posed prior to the Tuesday attack, Perry, the Stockton police captain, said: “I don’t think so. He had some criminal history but a lot less than an amazing number of people who are running around on the streets today.”
The Stockton Unified School District, meanwhile, sent out letters to the homes of all students Thursday.
“Children,” the letter read, “please call your friends and encourage them to come back to school. Your teachers care about you and wish to help you learn. They want to see you again.”
City officials have established a 24-hour hot line monitored by therapists fluent in English, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Lao and Hmong. Stockton’s Cambodian community plans a mourning service to be held next week. Most of Cleveland’s students are Southeast Asian immigrants.
At the front of the school, parents and passers-by left more flowers and stuffed animals Thursday. Teachers brought classes to a school sign there to offer brief prayers.
After bowing her head with classmates, Keo Hem, 12, a sixth-grader who emigrated from Cambodia in 1983, said a silent prayer. Her prayer, she told a reporter later, was for “care for these children that have been hurt and to save other children from being hurt.”
“Don’t let them come and shoot again,” she said.
Of the 30 people wounded in the attack, eight children were in stable condition at hospitals Thursday night and six others, including a teacher, were in fair condition. The others have been released.
As the school day ended, dozens of parents arrived to accompany their sons and daughters home. U.S. Army recruiting Sgt. Rick Roland, 35, had walked his sons Damien, 11, and Desmond, 8, to school Thursday morning to help them overcome their fear.
“To show them that everything is OK now,” Roland took the boys for a brief stroll around the playground where their classmates had been gunned down.
Times staff writers Eric Malnic in Lake Tahoe, Jerry Gillam and Paul Jacobs in Sacramento and Stephen Braun and Peter H. King in Los Angeles also contributed to this article.