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Jury Finds Gunman Legally Sane at Time of School Shooting

O'Rourke Shot at Elementary School Children, Wounding Two

San Diego Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan reacts to March 16 verdict on insanity plea petition from convicted gunman, Brendan O'Rourke.

By Sylvia Mendoza

Vista, Calif—After two days of deliberation, a jury determined that Brendan O’Rourke, who opened fire on a San Diego county elementary school, wounding two girls, was legally sane at the time of the attack. After the verdict was returned Friday at San Diego Superior Court, North County Division, presiding Judge Aaron H. Katz directed O’Rourke to return on April 20 for sentencing, which could be up to 103 years.

Dozens of parents and school officials had crowded into the gallery at Department 24. Many broke into tears when the verdict was read. “They [jurors] did the right thing,” said Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan. “They said, ‘you don’t get to do that to our kids.’”

O’Rourke, 41, was convicted on March 6 of seven counts of attempted murder with premeditation and deliberation, and seven counts of assault with a firearm. When he opened fire on children in the playground at Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad during their lunch hour with a loaded .357 Magnum handgun in October 2010, he seriously wounded two girls, ages 6 and 7. In addition to his weapon, also in his possession were extra ammunition, a gas can and matches, according to Carlsbad police reports.

Once convicted, O’Rourke immediately petitioned for an insanity plea.

“The evidence pointed to a cold, calculated a well-planned crime,” said Stephan. “The defendant intended to take many lives.”

A licensed security guard, the gun was registered to O’Rourke even though he was working in a telecommunications company at the time of his attack on the school. Stephan explained that if O’Rourke had been found insane, he would have been turned over to a mental facility, but could petition to be restored to sanity within one year of incarceration. “It’s not common, but it does happen,” Stephan said. “That’s the potential consequence of an insanity plea.”

Stephan praised the community that had jumped into action to protect the children that October day—from staff members who covered children with their own bodies, to the construction workers who tackled, captured and held O’Rourke until police arrived.  “There was only one villain in the story,” Stephan said, “but there were many heroes.”

Yet, repercussions may be felt for a long time to come. “Some kids still don’t want to go out on the playground to play,” Stephan said. “The jury rendered a just verdict.”  


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