A 17-year-old student was shot and killed at Reseda High School by a 15-year-old classmate Monday as a dozen teen-agers looked on, the second time in a month that a student has been gunned down on a Los Angeles Unified School District campus, authorities said.
The shooting came less than three weeks after the district launched an unprecedented program of random metal-detector spot checks for weapons in the nation’s second-largest school system.
Authorities said Robert Heard, a Reseda High football player, confronted Michael Shean Ensley in a corridor of the school’s science building during a midmorning snack break and fired once, hitting Ensley in the chest as other students watched.
Officials said the victim staggered across the tree-shaded campus and collapsed in a grassy quadrangle area near the administration office. Students believed at first that the injured teen-ager was playacting.
Several students then carried the mortally wounded youth into the administration building, where he was taken to the nurse’s office. He was later pronounced dead at Northridge Hospital Medical Center.
Witnesses said Heard fled, weeping, across the 2,000-student campus, hopped a fence and ran to a doughnut shop a few blocks away. A school police officer arrested him there without a struggle shortly after he ordered a raspberry doughnut and a lemon drink, said a shop employee. Police said he was carrying a small-caliber handgun.
Authorities said that both Heard, a sophomore from Panorama City, and Ensley, a senior from South Los Angeles, were bused to the suburban campus. The motive for the shooting was uncertain, officials said.
Ensley’s mother said her son was a gentle boy. He had enrolled at Reseda High to escape the violent undertow of South-Central gangs, she said.
“You think you’re sending your child to a safe haven,” sobbed Margaret Ensley, an assistant sales manager and single mother of two. “I thought he’d be safe in the Valley.”
Heard was being held in Sylmar Juvenile Hall, police said.
The 10 a.m. shooting at Reseda High School led school officials Monday to hasten expansion of the metal detector searches to all 49 high schools in the district every day.
Supt. Sid Thompson said that “the shooting today re-emphasizes we have to do something immediately. . . . It’s serious enough now that I can’t avoid taking every action.”
Until recently, metal detectors were used in the district only for some social and sports events. But, prompted by the Jan. 21 killing of a 16-year-old student in a Fairfax High School classroom, school police began using a dozen or so hand-held detectors two weeks ago to search for weapons at the start of school days, rotating randomly among junior and senior high schools. The searches had reached about two schools a day.
The district’s recent purchase of 250 additional detectors, at a total cost of about $30,000, means that students selected at random at all high schools will be searched every day, starting in two or three weeks, officials said.
Thompson cautioned, however, that the detector searches will not guarantee that the sprawling high school campuses, with their many entrances, windows and fences, will be free of weapons.
Another Valley high school student, a 16-year-old girl, was shot to death only a few hours later in what police described as an unrelated incident caused by gang rivalry.
The girl, a student at Cleveland High School, was killed, and two other students were wounded after an argument in the 19100 block of Napa Street, near the intersection of Van Alden, in Northridge, police said. “Someone pulled out a handgun, several shots were fired, and three were hit,” said Homicide Detective Tom Broad.
One teen-age boy, shot in torso, was taken to Northridge Hospital Medical Center where he underwent surgery. A teen-age girl, shot in the buttocks, was treated and released from another nearby hospital, Broad said. The identities of the dead and wounded were not released. Police were seeking four to five male suspects.
After the shooting at Reseda, a school psychiatrist and other counselors tried to console shocked students, but some could not contain their grief.
“Why did he have to die? Why did he have to die?” cried one teen-age girl. “He didn’t do nothing to nobody.”
Another student broke away from the grasp of a teacher. “This just doesn’t make any sense,” he said, walking away with his head held low. “No sense at all.”
Ensley was shot directly beneath two signs that show a handgun covered by the international red circle and slash symbol. One read: “No Weapons on Campus. Bring a Weapon . . . Get Arrested/Expelled. Report Weapons on Campus.” The signs were recently put up by the school district as part of its weapons-check program.
Authorities and students said they were unsure of the relationship between Heard and Ensley or exactly what sparked the shooting.
Los Angeles Police Detective Philip Quartararo declined to characterize the shooting as gang-related but said both boys were involved in “tagging,” or marking property with graffiti.
Detective Joel Price said Heard admitted to “being from a tagging crew” based in the San Fernando Valley. He said Ensley was rumored to be a member of a rival tagging crew.
“They call themselves tagging crews, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re gang members,” said Price, who is in charge of the investigation.
“These two became involved in an argument in the hallway over their differences, over the tagging crews,” Price said. He said that to his knowledge Heard and Ensley had not fought before.
Other accounts of the boys’ affiliations differed from the police version.
Students and school administrators said neither Heard nor Ensley was a part of a gang but that both had had school discipline problems and were affiliated with “posses"--cliques of students who party and hang out together.
School authorities said Ensley was associated with the “Knock Out Posse” and Heard with one called EWF--"Every Woman’s Fantasy.” Students said Ensley was a quiet boy who loved to play dominoes and talk to girls.
Students said that unlike gangs, the posses are social groups that have parties and organize sports contests, but usually do not carry guns.
But Ensley’s sister disputed statements that he was involved with the Knock Out Posse.
In a telephone interview Monday afternoon, Carol Ensley said the youth had left Taft High School in Woodland Hills about 1 1/2 years ago because “some people over there were trying to get him to be in a posse.”
“He didn’t want to and that’s why he checked out and went to Reseda,” said Carol Ensley, 22, who described her brother as a shy boy.
Warren Mason, Taft High School administrative assistant, said Ensley had been transferred to Reseda in February, 1991, after discipline problems such as disrupting class and throwing spitballs. He returned to Taft in the fall of that year, but was sent back to Reseda after his grades fell, school authorities said.
“He was not a gangbanger,” said Mason. “He doesn’t dress like one. He looks like a typical kid. If he were here now, you wouldn’t know if he was from the city or the Valley.
“He was a polite kid. I was the one who issued all the discipline and he was always polite and respectful. He was honest and open about whatever he’d done. If he did something wrong, he apologized for it.
A 17-year-old friend of Ensley from Taft who declined to give his name said Ensley wanted to return to Taft because of threats from some Reseda students.
“I went to Reseda with him but came back to Taft,” said the friend. “Nobody liked me and Mike because we came from Taft. He was cool. All the girls liked him. I begged to come back. I talked to him Saturday night and he said he was wanting to come back ‘cause they were sweatin’ him. When they’d walk by they’d say, ‘We got some busters,’ trying to start something.”
“He was just a regular guy. . . . It was the EWF--they’re from the Valley and L.A.,” the friend said.
A Taft High official confirmed that Ensley had indicated in the past two weeks that he wanted to return to Taft because of fear of some Reseda students.
Heard had transferred to Reseda High School about a year ago from William Tell Aggeler Opportunity School, one of five special Los Angeles Unified schools for students with disciplinary troubles, school officials said. He played tailback on the school football team and was described as a gregarious boy who loved to joke around.
Both youths were classified as “opportunity transfers,” students who are transferred mostly for disciplinary problems. The practice has come under fire from critics who say that some of the students should be expelled from the district rather than moved around.
Ensley died about 10:30 a.m. at the Northridge hospital, where friends and about half a dozen distraught family members, including his parents, waited.
The bullet entered the right side of the boy’s chest and went out the back, severing both the pulmonary artery and pulmonary vein, Dr. Joseph Sachs said. He added that because of the severity of the wound the boy probably died within minutes of being shot.
Two hours after the shooting, students still walked along the bloodstained sidewalk at Reseda High where Ensley collapsed, some dabbing their eyes, others quickening their pace as they stared down at the dark bloodstains.
Meanwhile, school officials patrolled the campus, trying to calm students, telling them they could call home if they wished.
One teen-ager ran past the site where his fellow student went down, yelling to a friend:
“Hey, cool man. I just called my mom and told her ‘Get me out of here! There’s been a shooting!’ she said ‘I’ll be right there!’ ”
Dozens of parents arrived at the school shortly after the shooting to pull their teen-agers out for the day.
In an announcement to the students at the end of day, Principal Robert Kladifko said that today would be a normal school day, except for additional security and small group discussions with counselors.
“Tomorrow is another day,” said Kladifko over the public address system. “And it will be a much better day than today.”
Herb Graham, the district’s director of police and administrative services, said that since the random weapons checks were initiated after the Fairfax shooting, “one or two” guns have been confiscated.
The checks, which are performed on a rotating basis at different schools, had not been done at Reseda High, Graham said.
Contributing to this story were Times staff writers Mayerene Barker, Jack Cheevers, Henry Chu, Larry Gordon, John Johnson, Josh Meyer, Doug Smith and Carol Watson.
A student was shot and killed at Reseda High School on Monday. It was the second shooting death in the Los Angeles Unified School District in just over a month. The incident occurred near two signs that warn against bringing handguns on campus.
A) At 10 a.m., students are released for nutrition break.
B) At 10:10 a.m., a 17-year-old senior is shot in the chest near the doorway of the science building. About a dozen students witness the shooting; no one else is injured.
C) The wounded student staggers about 100 yards into an outdoor courtyard, then collapses.
D) Fellow students carry the victim to school health office, where nurse administers first aid.
E) Paramedics take wounded youth to Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where he is pronounced dead about 10:30 a.m.
F) A 15-year-old sophomore is arrested at doughnut shop near the school. Police recover a small-caliber handgun.
Source: Times staff and wire reports
The Toll of Violence (Southland Edition, A16)
Among the recent shooting incidents at Los Angeles County public schools, including those in the Los Angeles Unified School District:
Feb. 22, 1993: A student at Reseda High School died after being shot in a school hallway.
Jan. 21, 1993: A 16-year-old boy was accidentally shot to death and a 17-year-old boy was wounded in a classroom at Fairfax High School on the Westside when another classmate handled a gun he had inside his knapsack and it fired.
Sept. 29, 1992: A cheerleader was fatally wounded outside Paramount High School when she was caught in gang gunfire.
Sept. 16, 1992: Two teen-agers, waiting for friends as school let out, were wounded in a drive-by shooting in front of Rosemead High School.
June 17, 1992: A 17-year-old honors student was fatally shot in a McDonald’s restaurant across from Paramount High School after refusing to surrender his portable CD player.
May 29, 1992: Three teen-agers were wounded at Venice High School in a drive-by shooting stemming from a rivalry between two gangs.
April 15, 1992: An 18-year-old Bell High School student was fatally shot in the head by a 15-year-old rival gang member as the student walked to school.
Oct. 28, 1991: A 16-year-old boy was wounded in a drive-by shooting as he stood near the playing field at Dorsey High School, in the Mid-City area.
Oct. 4, 1991: Two students attending an afternoon football game between Crenshaw and Dorsey high schools were slightly injured when the crowd was sprayed with gang gunfire at Dorsey High’s Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Sept. 26, 1991: Two girls were injured when a school bus carrying 28 students from Nogales High School in La Puente was caught in the cross-fire between two Valinda gangs blocks from the school.
Sept. 18, 1991: A young man was wounded in the back by shots fired from a passing vehicle near Muir Junior High School in South-Central Los Angeles.
May 22, 1991: A 14-year-old gang member was shot to death as he stood in front of Millikan Junior High School in Sherman Oaks after classes had been dismissed.
April 23, 1991: An 11-year-old boy was killed in the schoolyard of Ralph J. Bunche Middle School in Compton when gang members fired at a school police officer and hit the boy instead.
Jan. 14, 1991: A teen-ager on a bicycle fired five or six shots from a handgun as he rode past a Nelson Elementary School in La Puente, but no one was hurt.
Compiled by Times researcher Tracy Thomas