Memorial service held for 15-year-old shot by police
Published: Monday, January 16, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 11:45 p.m.
Mourners emerged from a church carrying candles, sobbing and hugging each other after a memorial service Sunday for a 15-year-old boy who died two days after being shot by deputies at his middle school.
Friends and family members visited Landmark Community church for an evening vigil for Christopher Penley, who was officially pronounced dead at 4:57 a.m. Sunday, the Seminole County Sheriff's Office said in a statement posted on its Web site.
Penley had been described as brain dead since about 10:30 a.m. Saturday, but was kept alive so his organs could be harvested, said Mark Nation, a lawyer for Penley's parents. Funeral arrangements for the boy were pending.
The media was barred from entering the church located near Penley's neighborhood, which has been reeling from the Friday shooting at Milwee Middle School. Family and friends say the boy was emotionally troubled, reportedly bullied at school and had run away from home several times.
"There were a lot of songs, praying, the minister spoke a few times - trying to comfort the family that he's in a better place," said Heather Sinclair, who mentored Penley in elementary school in Winter Springs.
Pastor Robbie Hall said he addressed the roughly 135 people in the church with a message of peace. Outside, 18-year-old Steven Lewis, who had known Penley for five years, said the teen "got along with everyone."
"Everyone was his best friend," Lewis said. "He's still with me in my heart."
The service took place two days after Penley was shot. Authorities said he took to school a pellet gun that closely resembled a 9mm handgun. After a classroom scuffle in which he struggled with another boy over the gun, he was cornered by sheriff's deputies and a SWAT team in a school bathroom, authorities said.
Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said the boy was suicidal, vowed to die during the incident and couldn't be talked into surrendering the weapon. Eslinger says Penley was shot after raising the gun at a deputy.
No other students or school staff at the 1,100-student school in suburban Orlando were injured.
Eslinger said Friday it wasn't until after the incident that authorities realized the weapon was only a pellet gun. But Nation said Saturday Ralph Penley told authorities it wasn't a real gun on a cell phone as he rushed to the school after hearing of the incident. Nation said police wouldn't let Ralph Penley inside when he arrived.
"If Christopher was alive and (Ralph Penley) was able to go into the school, he would've been able to talk him out of it," Nation said. "He did everything he could to avoid this situation."
However, Nation said he didn't know the precise timeline of events, including whether Christopher had died before Ralph Penley arrived. He said he'd be investigating the incident further.
Seminole County Sheriff's Lt. Dennis Lemma said Sunday the department had no immediate comment on Nation's statement.
However, the Orlando Sentinel reported Sunday that Eslinger said Ralph Penley wasn't told of the events until after his son was shot.
"It's a total misunderstanding," Eslinger told the newspaper.
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