Teen who admitted to school shooting commits suicide in jail

By Ben Fox The Associated Press
Tuesday October 30, 2001

SAN DIEGO — An 18-year-old who admitted to a March shooting spree that wounded five people at his high school committed suicide early Monday, hanging himself in his jail cell. 

Jason Hoffman, who had a history of mental illness, was found dead at San Diego’s Central Jail shortly before 1 a.m., Deputy District Attorney Dan Lamborn said. He was alone in the cell and had been checked less than an hour earlier, investigators said. 

Hoffman left behind writings which indicated “he was displeased with the world,” said Lt. Jerry Lewis of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. 

The writings included doodles and a list of musical artists, which Lewis declined to name. They were not a suicide note in the usual sense, he said. 

“You can only theorize that he didn’t like being 18 and in jail with what he was facing,” he said. 

Last month, Hoffman pleaded guilty to six felony counts for the March 22 shooting at Granite Hills High School in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon. He was to be sentenced on Nov. 8 to 27 years to life in prison. 

“This was an obviously troubled young man and it’s a sad end to his life,” Lamborn said. 

Five people were wounded when Hoffman opened fire with a shotgun on the campus in an attack apparently aimed at the school’s dean of students. The motivation for the assault was never fully explained, according to Lamborn. 

Hoffman was stopped when a police officer shot him in the face, fracturing his jaw. 

The attack came two weeks after a shooting at a nearby campus, Santana High School in Santee, killed two students and left 13 people wounded. The alleged gunman in that attack was a 15-year-old freshman, Charles “Andy” Williams, who remains in custody pending trial. 

Hoffman’s attorney, William Trainor, has said his client took antidepressants before the shooting and had a history of mental problems, which he planned to detail if the case went to trial. 

It was unclear whether Hoffman had continued to take medication while in custody, Lewis said. 

Following his arrest, Hoffman was held in a padded “safety cell” due to concerns he might hurt himself. But a doctor later ruled he could be moved to the type of “administrative detention cell” where he was found dead, Lewis said. 

It was not clear when the transfer occurred, but Lewis did not believe it was recent. 

Hoffman was confined to the small cell, with only a small window in the door, for 23 hours a day. During a one-hour daily break he was allowed to exercise, shower and make phone calls. 

Early Monday, a deputy performing a routine check discovered Hoffman hanging from a vent screen from a torn bed sheet. Two deputies lowered him and found no pulse. Medical staff and paramedics were unable to revive him. 

He was pronounced dead at the scene just before 1:30 a.m. An autopsy was planned for Tuesday.