Youth, 17, Slain in Fight With School Policeman Investigating Burglary

Times Staff Writer

A 17-year-old youth was shot to death Friday by a San Diego Unified School District police officer responding to a burglary call at Zamorano Elementary School in Paradise Hills, authorities said.

Paul Virgil Marino, of Paradise Hills, was shot once in the chest by Officer Ray Cook about 2:20 a.m. as Cook, 56, and another officer tried to arrest Marino in a dark classroom at the school, San Diego Police Sgt. Ray Sigwalt said.

Police later found a knife and a crude bomb inside the kindergarten classroom near Marino, Sigwalt said.

Cook's partner, David Helms, 47, was hit under the left arm by a bullet from Cook's .38-caliber revolver, which accidentally discharged shortly before the fatal shot was fired. The accidental shot was fired when Cook struck Marino over the head twice with the gun during the struggle, Sigwalt said.

Officer Wore Protective Vest

Helms was wearing a protective vest and suffered bruised ribs, Sigwalt said. Cook suffered cuts on his shins and a cut on his right index finger, according to a spokeswoman at Paradise Valley Hospital.

Both were treated and released.

Friday's shooting was the first by an on-duty officer in the 20-year history of the San Diego Unified School District, said Richard Ewens, supervisor for the department.

Nearly the entire incident, which lasted about seven minutes, occurred in darkness after both uniformed officers dropped their flashlights to defend themselves, Sigwalt said.

Answered Silent Burglar Alarm Report

According to Sigwalt, Cook and Helms answered a report of a silent burglar alarm at 2:17 a.m. at the school in the 2600 block of Casey Street, Sigwalt said.

The officers saw a broken window, entered the classroom through the door and shined their flashlights across the room, spotting Marino crouched in a corner, Sigwalt said.

After at first cooperating and lying face down to let the officers handcuff him, Marino sprang to his feet and began to swing at the two, Sigwalt said.

"The entire struggle took place in the dark," Sigwalt said. "They didn't have much time to know what was happening," he said of the officers.

During the fight, Sigwalt said, Cook felt something on Marino he thought was a weapon.

The fight escalated after Cook hit Marino over the head with his gun, firing the accidental shot, Sigwalt said. He then fired at Marino from close range, Sigwalt said.

"After Helms was struck with the accidental shot and left the fight, it became apparent to Cook that he was losing the fight," Sigwalt said.

"After the kid was down, they illuminated the area by him," Sigwalt said. "He had a knife by him."

A coroner's deputy called to the scene found a crude bomb under Marino when he was turned over, Sigwalt said. The youth also had electrical tape wrapped around his waist, Sigwalt said.

Gunpowder, Buckshot

The San Diego Fire Department's Explosives Device Team was called in to X-ray the bomb, which was described as a tightly taped, 6-inch cardboard cylinder filled with gunpowder and buckshot, Sigwalt said. The bomb was capped with clay on both ends and had a slow-burning fuse, he added.

"It's not really a pipe bomb, but could be a very effective personal grenade," Sigwalt said. "What he was doing in there, who knows?"

The boy's mother, Josie Marino, told a Channel 39 television reporter: "My son was a beautiful boy. I worshiped my son, I idolized that boy."

In a tearful interview, she said she had pleaded with San Diego police to help her with her son, who had had many run-ins with officers.

"I told them: 'Yes, you're going to blow him away, and then you're going to blame me.' "

Police Contact

Sigwalt confirmed that police had had previous contact with the boy, but declined to say what the nature of that contact was.

Students arriving for class at Zamorano at 7:50 a.m. were sent to nearby Bethune Elementary School for about an hour while police finished their investigation of the scene, said Rachel Flanagan, the school's principal.

"The classroom is shut right now," Flanagan said Friday afternoon. "The kids know that we had an intruder. . . . We didn't want to make a big thing out of it."

San Diego police are investigating the shooting as a burglary and a police-involved shooting, Sigwalt said.

Their findings will be turned over to the district attorney's office, which will determine whether to press charges against either officer.

Placed on Leave

Both officers have been put on paid administrative leave for three days, Ewens said. They are part of the 34-officer force employed by the San Diego Unified School District, he said.

The department also has seven non-sworn officers who mainly work days at elementary schools.

Cook joined the department in 1972 after working as a California State Police officer in Los Angeles, and Helms joined the force in October, 1988, after working as a San Diego police officer, Ewens said.

All officers in the department must be graduates of a police academy, pass a basic peace officer standard training--the same used by other law enforcement agencies--and have at least two years of full-time experience in California law enforcement, Ewens said.

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