Published January 13, 2015
The 15-year-old boy shot by police while brandishing a pellet gun in a middle school bathroom 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, said family attorney Mark Nation.
"His organs are in the process of being harvested," Nation told reporters outside a hospital.
Earlier, Kelly Swofford, a family spokeswoman and neighbor of the boy's parents Ralph and Donna Penley, said the boy had died and that the family was "devastated."
Penley, of Winter Springs, was accused of pulling 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, a SWAT team member shot him, authorities said.
Officers who had responded to the 1,100-student school in suburban Orlando believed the gun was a Beretta 9mm, and didn't learn until after the shooting that it was a pellet gun.
Police had said Friday night that the boy was on "advanced life support." The hospital refused to release any information Saturday.
"Everybody in the whole neighborhood is really upset," Paul Cavallini, who lives across the street from the Penleys, said Saturday. "He was a quiet kid — polite and everything. He was just a normal teenager."
However, friends and investigators say he was also bullied and emotionally distraught, and went to school that day expecting to die.
Patrick Lafferty, a 15-year-old neighbor who has known Penley about six years, said he wasn't surprised by what happened. He said Penley was a loner who "told me he wanted to kill himself dozens of times."
"He would put his headphones on and walk up and down the street and he would work out a lot," preferring to keep to himself, Lafferty said.
Swofford said the boy had run away from home several times. Her 11-year-old son, Jeffery Swofford, said Penley had said he had something planned.
"He said `I hope I die today because I don't really like my life,"' Jeffery Swofford said.
At a news conference following the shooting Friday at suburban Orlando's Milwee Middle School, authorities put the pellet gun side-by-side with a Beretta. It appeared to have black paint covering the red or pink markings on the muzzle that may have indicated to officers that it was a nonlethal weapon.
"As you can see, it doesn't take a professional to see how close this looks to the real thing. I would not be able to tell the difference," said Joyce Dawley, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent in charge of the investigation.
Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said the incident began about 9:38 a.m., when another student saw Penley with the weapon and struggled with him for it. Pointing the gun at the other student's back, Penley directed him to a closet, dimmed the lights and left the classroom, Eslinger said.
The school went into lockdown.
From there, the sheriff said, Penley traversed the school campus before ending up in a bathroom. By then, more than 40 officers, including SWAT and negotiators, were on scene. He refused to drop the firearm, Eslinger said, and was shot after pointing it at a SWAT deputy.
"The student said he was going to kill himself or die," Eslinger said.
Jeffery Swofford said Penley had been in a disagreement with someone, allegedly over a girl. There was going to be a fight Friday, he said. "I heard a rumor that he had a BB gun, but I didn't think he really had one," he added.
At the school Friday, Marie Hargis, whose son and daughter attend Milwee, held a sign that read "Stop the violence."
"My youngest daughter is just very emotionally messed up," she said. "She started crying and said, `Mommy, I don't want to go back.' They should not fear having to go to school."