Classmates Mourn Teen Shot Dead by Deputy at School

From Associated Press

Through sobs, classmates remembered a quiet 15-year-old who endured bullying and teasing at school before he died there, shot by a deputy while brandishing a pellet gun.

At Christopher Penley's funeral Thursday, friends recalled how other students would push him in the hallways and tease him for being so quiet.

"I would stand up for Chris because some kids would tease him," said Phylicia Cromms, a student at an alternative school Penley attended for two months before being sent back to Milwee Middle School.

"He told us all before that he wanted to die," Susan Warford said through tears.

"We wonder if we would've told somebody if it would have helped."

About 200 mourners, including three busloads of students, crowded Northland Community Church for the service.

Last week, police said, Penley fled to a bathroom alcove close to two occupied classrooms at the middle school and held a gun to his neck, saying he was going to either kill himself or die.

Authorities said Seminole County Sheriff's Lt. Mike Weippert did not know the weapon was a pellet gun when he shot Penley. The barrel of Penley's pellet gun, normally painted red or orange, was painted black and resembled a 9-millimeter handgun.

The Rev. Robbie Hall, who officiated at the service, called the incident a terrible mistake.

"He couldn't have had murder in his heart," said Hall, pastor of Landmark Community Church, where Penley attended a Wednesday night youth group. "If he had murder in his heart, he would have tried to get a real gun and do some damage."

Hall described Penley as a quiet teen, always ready to help, who loved to play football and to draw.

Penley was a loyal friend, said Oral Nussbaum, his former Boy Scout leader.

"He may not have been quick to make friends, but once he did, you were his friend for life," Nussbaum said.

The teen's parents declined to be interviewed. Attorney Mark Nation said the family was devastated and trying to cope.

"If they can give any message to anybody today, it is to go home and love your children and teach them to love others," he said.

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