After Santana, Shooting at Granite Hills
by Rich Gibson 
San Diego State University
March 2001

In the Interim

In California alone, in two days following the Santana High shooting, 11 students were arrested for making threats to their schools or people in them. The Nasdaq collapsed over the next two weeks, losing more than one-third of its value. The Dow slipped below 10,000. Pre-teachers in the College of Education at San Diego State discussed the impact of the stock crisis on their lives, and wondered if it was wrong to take pleasure in seeing wealthy investors fail. A few students noted that they were investors themselves, that they were losing all they had. One asked, "Does this mean that members of the tribe cannot criticize the casino?" 

Fifteen days after the Santana killings, rolling electrical blackouts that had plagued most of California for weeks hit San Diego for the first time. The blackouts and skyrocketing energy bills, increasing in some cases by 1000%, destroyed small businesses around the state. In that period, questions about the cause of the state energy crisis began to be answered by court actions filed by public and private entities, insisting that the deregulated energy providers had deliberately created a shortage, taken huge profits, closed aging plants and crushed the unions inside, avoided public scrutiny, and used the legislative and executive branch of the state government to begin to syphon off a nearly $11 billion state budget surplus to private pockets. That budget surplus had once been earmarked for education. 

California's school system, which ranks near the top of the states in the number of high-stakes standardized tests students must take, is 41st in the US in per-pupil spending (at around $5,400), 45th in access to computers and 50th in access to school nurses and libraries. The average California teacher makes about $44,100, 7th in the US, but the cost of living in California is extraordinarily high, especially so in the San Diego area. 

In 2001, in the spring, California began to distribute money to teachers and schools based on scores on the Assessment Performance Index, the results of standardized exams. Susan Harmon, a leader of CalCare and an Oakland teacher, calls the API, "the Affluent Parent Index, a tactic to divide teachers and students, and to wreck good schooling." She has urged education workers to use, "the bribes to take ads in local papers denouncing the process so the community will understand." API scores do indeed resemble an economic instrument, not an educational tool. In the San Diego area those schools scoring in the lowest 10% have 93% of their students on free lunch programs, while the highest scoring 10% have only 7% of their students on free lunch. The lowest scoring schools have the highest percentage of English language learners. 

After the Santana shootings, on March 21, the San Diego Education Association issued a newsletter, " The Advocate." The paper reflects SDEA's continuing battles with the school district. Director Robin Whitlow, on the front page, urges school workers to speak out against administrative policies that do not address, or fund, "the whole child," warning that, "we will see more incidents..."

On March 22, I was in a pre-service teacher course in nearby Cajon Valley when news of a shooting seeped into my classroom via cell phones. My students had friends and relatives at shooting site.

I went to Granite Hills High School shortly after the gunshots. Part of the Grossmont Union District, Granite Hills High, with 2,900 students, is located on a corridor of schools on Madison street, a corridor lined by trailer parks, and one trailer-park-convalescent-home. The corridor houses, to the west, El Cajon High, a middle school, and elementary school, then Granite Hills High. Kids at both high schools claim the other is the wealthier. 

Teaching and learning in the Grossmont Union district is powerfully regimented along Skinnerian behaviorist lines, each student's educational goals quantified and tested. For example, the district boasts these measures: "Responsible Individuals: Who succeed in a diverse environment as evidenced by satisfactory workplace skills and acceptable attendance as reported on the Extended Transcript. Involved Individuals: Who exercise rights and responsibilities as citizens to participate in the United States democracy as evidenced by a score of 70 percent or better on the American Government Program Assessment." 

The school system is segregated, as most are, by a severe interior tracking system based on estimates of a student's literacy skills, typically a race- income measure. Only students in Advanced Placement classes are given competing theoretical perspectives in education; for example, in economics a critique of labor and capital as opposed to a consumer education curriculum. The goals and objectives of each class are explicitly linked to a specific state standard, and a test-each device claiming to promote critical thinking skills. 

Some of the schools programs can only be considered bizarre. One two-day event involving the entire school, highlighted on the Granite Hills web page, is headlined by a skull and bones caricature and another cartoon of the Grim Reaper. The program, "Every 15 minutes," is described as:

Some of the schools programs can only be considered bizarre. One two-day event involving the entire school, highlighted on the Granite Hills web page, is headlined by a skull and bones caricature and another cartoon of the Grim Reaper. The program, "Every 15 minutes," is described as:

" During the first day events the "Grim Reaper" calls students who have been selected from a cross-section of the entire student body out of class. One student is removed from class every 15 minutes. A police officer will immediately enter the classroom to read an obituary which has been written by the "dead" student's parent(s) - explaining the circumstances of their classmate's demise and the contributions the student has made to the school and the community. A few minutes later, the student will return to class as the "living dead," complete with white face make-up, a coroner's tag, and a black "Every 15 Minutes" T-shirt. From that point on "victims" will not speak or interact with other students for the remainder of the school day. Simultaneously, uniformed officers will make mock death notifications to the parents of these children at their home, place of employment or business... During the most powerful program of the retreat, the students will be taken through an audio - visualization of their own death....On the following morning, a mock funeral service will be held at the High School. The assembly will began with a video of normal school day activities including scenes from the first day of the "Grim Reaper" and the staged accident. The assembly will be hosted by an Officer (Project Coordinator), who will guide the audience through the devastating effects of losing a loved one due to a bad choice"

The web site highlights photos of moments from last year's two-day event, bloodied and smashed students being carted off in ambulance carts-a simulation.

Teachers at Granite Hills have web pages. One social science teacher introduces himself: "I would like to be addressed as Mr. Carter, please. Thank you. I am looking forward to this semester. relax. I have over nine years of teaching experience, spanning the military, corporate, and educational fields. I am a veteran of instruction. My techniques have resulted in zero friendly casualties in my military unit during wartime, record profits in the corporations I have served, and several passing grades for students who were previously failing."

Another social science teacher, Gene Kraszewski, who says he has a Cornell PhD in comparative politics asserts in part, " I recently completed a Masters in Forensic Science with an emphasis in criminal profiling, crime scene investigation, and forensic DNA databases. Prior to teaching I worked in the federal government in intelligence analysis and law enforcement."

Yet another, "Before teaching, I Was a Judge Avdocate (sic) in the U.S. Marines for
4 years. I practiced law for 14 years in civil litigation, taxation and estate planning."

Tim McMahon, who is featured on several teachers' web sites who say, "I love Tim McMahon,"says: "I coach football and track here at GHHS. IF I ever have spare time I enjoy anything athletic and being outdoors. In order to be a good role model it helps to have good role models. I want to thank God and my parents for that. Remember ~"Work Hard, Play Hard!"

One teacher, Joanne Climie, was a delegate to the Democratic Convention in 2000. She posts web-photos of a party she held for the Democrats at a beach-front home. Most of the educator force at Granite Hills received at least one degree from San Diego State. At least one of them serves as an adjunct in the SDSU education program. This is an overwhelmingly white and middle class teaching force, relatively well-educated, reflecting diverse skills, much like most schools. With all their diversity, such as it is, each of them works with the "Essential Districtwide Learner Results," a rubric which forms the skeleton for the state's common measure of educational merit: standardized high-stakes tests. 

Test scores show that Granite Hills High placed an average of 1060 on the SAT in 1998, while El Cajon High notched but 890. However, Granite Hills tested 30% of their 640 seniors, while El Cajon only tested 20% of 390. Granite Hills is a slightly wealthier school. Neither school measures up to the truly affluent La Jolla High on the flush Pacific coast which tested 85% of their 342 seniors and averaged 1106 on the SAT. The GHHS "Eagles" football team, which always fills the stands, went 6-4 last fall, winning its last game over Santana High's "Sultans." Granite Hills currently most famous grad is Shane Spencer, a New York Yankee ballplayer.

The city of El Cajon is east of the city of San Diego, but inside San Diego County. In written history, El Cajon, surrounded by hills and mountains, was appropriated early by Catholic padres as a valley grazing land. It's really desert, converted to agriculture by irrigation, converted again by urban sprawl. There is nothing disconnecting El Cajon from the series of paved avenues that lead to the ocean on the west, and the open desert about 15 miles to the east. 

El Cajon is a city of about 95,000; 70% white, 20% hispanic, 5% black, 5% asian. It's a young community, more than 50% of the residents under 30. By political geography alone, it's race-based space. El Cajon, like Santee, has a contradictory history of people- to- people cooperation, often church-based, and the white supremacist movements that have deep roots in the Grossmont Union School District. Every student I interviewed at Granite Hills High was aware of Nazi and Klan-skinhead activity in the community and the presence of a pro-Nazi teacher at Grossmont High School, not far away. The Grossmont District, according to a long-time resident and San Diego State professor, "was recently seized by the religious right. Lines are bitterly drawn in the sand."

On a clear evening, westbound travelers along I-8 can see the sparkle of El Cajon's lights, about 8 miles from the sea. The location, between the city of San Diego and the deep desert, once made El Cajon a site for agriculture, now for small sales and manufacture. It's a deeply religious area, with many churches, many of them fundamentalist, and many small bars. The small town has nine Christian schools. Auto racing is very popular here, noted in Chamber of Commerce brochures. While parts of El Cajon, like Fletcher Hills, are prosperous, most parts are not. El Cajon circles three zip codes. The median housing costs vary in a range from $180,000 to $240,000, cheap to mid-range for the booming area housing market. About 60,000 people per year move to San Diego county. El Cajon's streets are littered with cheap fast-food joints, tattoo parlors, IGA's with little exterior lighting, auto parts shops. El Cajon is desert strip mall, post-colonial, even post-decay. There is an eery darkness about the entire area, partially brought on by Governor Gray Davis' demands for energy conservation. The homeless in El Cajon sleep in parking lots just off the main drags in the city. Some of them are aging derelicts. Some are kids. On a spring evening in a parking lot off First Avenue, a group of five homeless men kicked a drunken homeless youth who was passed out on the ground, stopping when an intervener protested. To the south, beautiful Mount Helix, a breadloaf shaped hill of moneyed homes arranged for views behind expansive shrubbery-and no sidewalks, looks down on El Cajon, and across to Mexico. 

Gunfire at Granite Hills

Shots FiredStudents Down

At around 12:50 on March 22, Jason Hoffman, a white boy just 13 days past his 18th birthday, started shooting outside Granite Hills High. He was armed with a 12 gauge shotgun and a 22 caliber pistol. He had purchased the 22 handgun after a ten day waiting period, according to law. He loaded his shotgun with birdshot, meaning that rather than have a relatively small number of larger buckshot slugs leave the barrel, a high number of tiny birdshot pellets are fired, with much less penetrating power. It is uncertain whether he knew that a 22 handgun and a birdshot load are poor choices for someone wanting to kill. Indeed, no one was killed. Hoffman never fired the handgun. 5 people were shot, including Hoffman, a teacher, and 3 students. 5 others were injured fleeing from the shooting. Of those shot, Hoffman was the most seriously injured. 

Jason Hoffman was shot in the face and the back by an El Cajon police officer who had been assigned to the school as part of a recent intensification of local security. The two had a brief gunfight just outside the school, the officer firing five times, hitting Hoffman twice, and hitting the 12 gauge shotgun Hoffman was firing, probably disabling it. Hoffman never reached the interior of the school building. 

Granite Hills High School, like all schools in the area, was already under a high alert that was hushed by the media. However, the entire community was aware of increased security and involved in discussions about security measures. Parents in the district, following the shooting at Santana High, met and rejected a proposal for metal detectors in the schools. More than 170 threats on schools were received in the county in the previous week. A school lockdown plan in case of a shooting had been rehearsed several times. The El Cajon officer who shot Hoffman, Rich Agundez, is a cousin to one of the campus officers who was shot by Andy Williams at Santana High two weeks ago. When the Granite Hills shooting erupted, SWAT teams were on the school in minutes, with a plan. Students knew how they were to evacuate, hands on heads.

According to Bernadette Roberts, a Granite Hills student interviewed by a San Diego Channel 8 newsperson, the school's principal, Ms Torres, had been warned about Hoffman. Roberts says that she told administrators six weeks ago that Hoffman was an angry youth, dangerous, and that he had commented to her that he was "planning another Columbine." 

Ms Roberts described how, at the slightest error, Hoffman would smash his computer mouse on his desk. She informed the authorities that he had told her he intended to kill people. Ms Roberts says she believes the school personnel should have taken action, been fully prepared, watchful at least, but clearly they were not. She believes that Hoffman is, "not a horrid kid, actually good, just really angry." 

Hoffman had been grade-retained at Granite Hills High. He should have graduated in 2000 and told Roberts that he was very angry about his treatment by school officials. A student who wished to remain anonymous stated that Hoffman had been informed that he would not graduate in 2001, and that two days before the shooting Hoffman had tried to enlist in the military, but was rejected. School officials refused to comment. A large youth, well over 200 pounds, Hoffman was isolated from the class of 2001. The San Diego Union Tribune of March 23 reports that,"he dressed oddly." Hoffman, according to other students, was living in a small apartment near the school with a neighbor-guardian who took him in after his parents separated and appear to have left the area. A black student, a junior asking anonymity, said, "He was just one of those guys who wanted to do his job here and get the hell out." A white student, who also asked to be anonymous, repeated what many kids said, "He was a good guy awhile ago but he didn't want to talk to any of us any more. He was just always alone." 

Unverified police reports say that the target of Hoffman's shooting was Dan Barnes, an administrator who was counseling Hoffman about his anger problems. Barnes' father, Darrell, strangely, had been a teacher in a school where, 22 years ago, another shooting had taken place, killing two. Dan Barnes, a Dean (for students "E to K") for less than three years, is a San Diego State University social studies grad with a teaching credential from El Cajon's Christian Heritage College. 

The president of Christian Heritage College describes his mission: "All classes and extra-curricular activities are based on a Scriptural foundation and integrated with Biblical truth. The Bible is our rule of faith and practice and sets the standard for our perspective and viewpoint. Subject matter in each academic field is measured under the lens of God's Word....A special focus of CHC, since its founding, has been an emphasis on the biblical account of creation and origins (in opposition to evolution theories), and on the virtues of democracy and America's historic values of free enterprise, the work ethic and limited government." Prospective professors at CHC are required to have a missionary zeal and evidence of, "obedience to God's Word."

As Jason Hoffman approached the school on March 22, he saw Dean Dan Barnes outside and opened fire. Mr Barnes fled inside. Mr Hoffman was quickly met by Mr Agundez. Shortly after, Jason Hoffman, just 18, was shown on television shirtless, twisted on his left side, his face mangled, dark blood pouring from his mouth into a blue plastic pan held by an attendant, being wheeled to an ambulance. Most of his large body was covered by a gray blanket, used perhaps to warm him, perhaps to cover the body shackles and handcuffs locking his hands behind his back. 

Frantic parents seeking their children moved through a staging area, Kennedy Park, named for the assassinated president, next to the school. They shouted their kids' names, and once they were united, paused at a small monument of two candles, a heart-balloon, and a message of sympathy brought by Santana cheerleaders. 

Professional grief counselors arrived at Granite Hills High almost immediately after the shooting. They knew most of the administrative players from their experience at Santana High. They began to plan a day to teach conflict resolution. "After all," said one counselor, "we do know that conflict is simply wrong." 

Granger Ward, the African-American school superintendent arrived from Manhattan who also oversaw the outpouring of grief at Santana, refused to comment on Ms Robert's complaints, as did principal Torres who, unlike her counterpart at Santana, pushed through a throng of reporters, refusing to speak. At 4:45 pm, there were 27 news trucks at Granite Hills High, antennae towering into the sky, but still running. Kennedy park was thick with grief, and diesel exhaust. Reporters tracked down kids and parents and nearly anyone for interviews, and watched the basketball finals in their trucks during slow moments. NBC, which cancelled afternoon programing to cover the shooting, interrupted evening newscasts to assure viewers that the soaps they may have missed would run between 2:00 a.m and 5:00 a.m. Unlike the Santana High tragedy where two people died, all local radio stations but one stopped continuous coverage of the tragedy by 5:00 p.m. Granite Hills' Senior Prom is scheduled for the night of June 2nd at Sea World, which offers, for $41.95, "sensational high-energy events like our sea-lion spectacular with Clyde and Seamore with their own hilarious home repair tv show." The Prom is still on. When asked, one student said she and her friends will, "flee to Mission beach and get stoned."

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