Student says suspect made ‘Columbine’ threat

The Associated Press
Sunday March 25, 2001

EL CAJON — A student accused of opening fire at his high school and wounding five people this week simulated guns with his hands and made a reference to “Columbine” in class earlier this year, another student said Friday. 

The account came as officials alleged that Jason Hoffman, 18, targeted a vice principal in Thursday’s shooting at Granite Hills High School and that he will likely be charged with attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. 

In addition, a source said Hoffman was involved in a previous classmate assault and was ordered to enroll in an anger management program, 

Bernadette Roberts, 18, said that in January some girls were making noise in a classroom and Hoffman appeared to become frustrated, put his hands in the shape of guns and stated, “I wish I could do Columbine all over again.” 

“When he said it it really shook me up,” Roberts said. 

In 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded 23 before killing themselves 

Roberts said she told her teacher and in early February met with Vice Principal Dan Barnes, who asked if she believed she needed protection. She said she declined and did not know what steps the district took. 

Officials of Grossmont Union High School District did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment Friday afternoon. 

Police Chief James Davis said investigators were aware of the report. 

“They are looking into it,” he said, but he would not comment further. 

The vice principal was not harmed in the attack, but three students and two teachers were hit by shotgun pellets, none seriously. 

Hoffman was charged when he was 14 with assault with a deadly weapon after he struck a fellow student in the head with a racquetball racket at his middle school, according to a source familiar with the case. 

But the victim was not seriously injured and the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor. Hoffman was given probation and ordered to attend an anger management class, said the source, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. 

The attack at Granite Hills was the second school shooting in San Diego County this month. Two boys were killed and 13 people were wounded March 5 at Santana High School in nearby Santee, allegedly by a 15-year-old boy. 

Hoffman, shot in the jaw and buttocks by a campus police officer, was in good condition Friday at Sharp Memorial Hospital, spokeswoman Eileen Cornish said. 

The lower wound was superficial, but his jaw was shattered. He had five hours of surgery Thursday and was questioned by police afterward, Cornish said. 

He was to expected to stay in the hospital three more days. He was under guard in the intensive care unit pending a move to a private room, she said. 

Hoffman’s mother went to the hospital Thursday evening, but authorities said she could not see her son until after his arraignment, Cornish said. 

Hoffman will probably be charged with one count of attempted premeditated murder and four counts of assault with a deadly weapon, with gun allegations attached to all counts, San Diego County District Attorney Paul Pfingst said. 

If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison plus 47 years, Pfingst said. Hoffman will likely be arraigned next week, depending on his condition. 

Officials outlined the case against Hoffman at a news conference but would not provide details of the alleged motive. 

“All we can say about the motive is that by the virtue of the charges, the focus of this individual was the vice principal,” Pfingst said. “The suspect’s actions were focused on the vice principal.” 

The police chief said Hoffman pulled up in front of the school in a pickup at 12:55 p.m. after skipping morning classes.  

He had a 12-gauge shotgun in his hand and a .22-caliber handgun in his waistband, police said. 

One shot was fired at Barnes, who escaped harm by ducking into an office. 

Officer Richard Agundez gave chase and fired up to five rounds, hitting Hoffman twice and his shotgun once, disabling it, police said. 

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Hoffman then collapsed in a street. 

The shooting lasted 90 seconds, officials said. 

Early accounts indicated that Agundez had a gunbattle with the gunman, but officials said Friday that the gunman did not shoot at the officer. 

Police Lt. Fred Morrison said investigators were trying to determine who owned the shotgun and handgun as well as a black powder, muzzle-loading gun found at Hoffman’s home. Computers were also seized there, he said. 


Friday’s classes at Granite Hills were canceled, and Grossmont Union High School District Superintendent Granger Ward urged parents to come with their children when classes resume Monday. 

“I really think we need to reclaim our school,” Ward said. 

Descriptions of the suspect varied. 

The powerfully built student is a loner intimidating enough to be called “The Rock,” said Sean Connacher, 18, a senior. 

“He always just seemed like an angry person. I always saw him walking around alone with a scowl on his face,” Connacher said. “Nobody picked on this kid because he was so intimidating.” 

But he is also known as a kid so concerned about his schoolwork that he got upset with classmates who didn’t pull their weight on projects and stewed about earning enough credits to graduate. 

At the school, workers repaired damage from the shooting, replacing a window and repainting walls and a door at the administration building.