Teen who was shot by deputies is brain dead


Published: Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
LONGWOOD - The 15-year-old boy shot by police while brandishing a pellet gun in his middle school was clinically brain dead Saturday but was being kept alive to harvest his organs, his family's attorney said.
Christopher Penley was expected to die Saturday night or today, family attorney Mark Nation said.
"His organs are in the process of being harvested," Nation told reporters outside a hospital Saturday.
Earlier, Kelly Swofford, a family spokeswoman and neighbor of the boy's parents Ralph and Donna Penley, said Christopher had died and that the family was "devastated." Penley, of Winter Springs, was accused of pulling out the pellet gun in a classroom Friday and pointing it at other students before forcing one into a closet, then leading deputies and SWAT team members on a chase that ended in a school bathroom when he raised the gun at a deputy.
Deputies responding to the 1,100-student school in suburban Orlando believed the gun was a Beretta 9mm, and didn't learn until after the shooting it was a pellet gun.
But Nation said Saturday the boy's parents were in contact with authorities during the incident Friday and were telling them that they believed Penley did not have a real gun. Nation said the boy's father went to the school to attempt to talk his son out of the situation.
"When he got to the school, they would not let him in and he was later told Christopher had been shot," Nation said.
The boy's father, Ralph Penley, was "extremely angry," Nation said. He believes that if he had been allowed to go to the school, he would have been able to talk his son out of the situation, Nation said. On Saturday, the hospital repeatedly refused to release Penley's condition to reporters or even specify the nature or extent of his injuries.
"It bothers me a lot, because I really thought he was going to make it," said Patrick Lafferty, a 15-year-old neighborhood friend of Penley's.
Maurice Cotey, 13, said in an interview with Orlando television station WKMG that he struggled with Penley over the gun after everyone else left the classroom.
"He got me towards the closet door, he turned me around, and . . . started to point the gun at me, so I started to grab for it. And he pulled it away and then I grabbed for it one more time, . . . twisted it and I pointed it at him."
Cotey said after he put the gun to Penley's legs, the gunman kicked him into the closet, where the two scuffled further, before Penley ran out of the classroom.
Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said the boy was suicidal and wouldn't respond to negotiators who tried to calm him in the bathroom. Eslinger said the gun should have had a colored tip, but was painted all black, making it closely resemble a 9mm.
However, Michael Lafferty, a 17-year-old junior at Winter Springs High school and friend of Penley's, said the gun wasn't modified at all.
"That's the way it came - that's the way he got it. He never changed anything," he said.
A group of youths skateboarding in the neighborhood Saturday said many of them also had pellet guns, and produced a small handful. One looked just like the gun Penley was accused of wielding and also had no colored tip.
Friends also said Penley was suicidal - unhappy and bullied by several kids at school. He had run away from home several times, Kelly Swofford said.
"He said he had something planned," her 11-year-old son Jeffery Swofford said.
Jeffery said Penley told him at breakfast Friday morning, "I hope I die today because I don't really like my life."
"Everybody in the whole neighborhood is really upset," Paul Cavallini, a neighbor of the Penley's, said Saturday. "He was a quiet kid - polite and everything. He was just a normal teenager."
Classes at Milwee Middle School were canceled after the approximately 10 a.m. shooting, buses were called in early and parents who saw live television news coverage hurried to pick up their children.
Resource officers and social workers were called to talk with faculty and children.
The investigation is being handled by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which leads all officer-involved shootings.

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