Published January 13, 2015
It was in an instant, with a SWAT team surrounding him, that Christopher David Penley slipped into an alcove in a school bathroom and raised what officers believed was a black 9 mm Beretta handgun, authorities said.
Moments later, a deputy shot the reportedly suicidal boy.
The 15-year-old had been holding what turned out to be a pellet gun, authorities said. He was on advanced life support Friday night, and the hospital refused to release any information Saturday morning.
"Everybody in the whole neighborhood is really upset," Paul Cavallini, who lives across the street from the Penleys, said Saturday morning. "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.
He had run away from home several times, said Kelly Swofford, a neighbor whose 11-year-old son was friends with Penley.
"He said he had something planned," said Jeffery Swofford, 11. "He said `I hope I die today because I don't really like my life.'"
At a news conference following the shooting Friday at suburban Orlando's Milwee Middle School, authorities put the weapon 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 Penley's home, a person who answered the phone Saturday said the family wasn't ready to discuss what had happened.
Classes were canceled after the shooting Friday and parents hurried to pick up their children. Social workers were on scene to talk with children who remained waiting for a ride.
Marie Hargis, whose 14-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter go to Milwee, stood in front of the school with 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."