CARLSBAD, Calif. — Children returning Monday to an elementary school where a gunman wounded two girls on a playground cheered and hugged construction workers who police said knocked down the shooter as he struggled to reload his gun.
Hundreds of parents, students and teachers — including the two bandaged girls — gave a standing ovation to the three workers during a family picnic at Kelly Elementary School.
A shout of “Viva Kelly” rang out three times, and the men were given gift baskets and handmade cards from the children, including one that read: “Dear Heroes: Thank You.”
“We’re not here today about a tragedy. What we’re doing here today is celebrating a miracle,” Principal Tressie Armstrong said at a news conference held at a park near the school Monday, three days after the attack.
Youngsters wearing the school color of kelly green and parents with bouquets attended the picnic in a grassy field next to the playground.
Matthew Keller came with his wife and 8-year-old son, who witnessed the attack.
“He was ready to go back,” Keller said of his son. “It was a scary experience for him. He’s been open about talking, and he wanted to get back to talk to his friends.”
Janitors had cleaned blood from the sidewalk over the weekend, and counselors met Monday with teachers and were available to talk with students shaken by the attack. Police remained on heightened patrol, but school officials were trying to make the day one of gratitude, not fear.
The school for grades kindegarden through sixth, serves one of the wealthiest communities in the U. S., a generally crime-free area about a 30-minute drive north of San Diego noted for its scenic beaches and luxury resorts such as La Costa, which has hosted major tennis and golf tournaments.
Brendan O’Rourke, 41, of Oceanside was arrested Friday for investigation of attempted murder and remained jailed without bail. Detectives were preparing to present the case to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office for possible charges.
Police believe O’Rourke armed himself with a .357-magnum revolver, jumped a fence and opened fire toward the crowded playground. The two girls, aged 6 and 7, were each shot in an arm.
Construction workers building a school cafeteria chased the gunman. Police said Carlos Partida jumped in his pickup truck and rammed the man, knocking him down. He and others held the man for police, authorities said.
The gunman was fumbling to reload when he was struck, and his poor gun handling may have saved lives, police Chief Gary Morrison said.
Police believe four to six shots were fired. The gun was registered to O’Rourke, but investigators were unsure where he obtained it, the chief said.
Morrison said O’Rourke told detectives he had considered other schools for the attack but decided on Kelly, although investigators did not immediately know why.
“He kind of rambles,” Morrison said.
O’Rourke was licensed to be a security guard in California, though he was not working as one. He was working for a telemarketing company and had no previous criminal record, the police chief said.