LONGWOOD, Fla. – A 15-year-old student mortally wounded by police in a school bathroom while brandishing a pellet gun was remembered as an emotionally troubled but friendly teen.
"Everyone was his best friend," said 18-year-old Steven Lewis after a private candlelight vigil Sunday for his friend Christopher Penley. "He's still with me in my heart."
Penley was pronounced dead early Sunday, two days after a deputy shot him as the middle school boy held a pellet gun that closely resembled a 9 mm handgun.
The boy was clinically brain dead and kept alive so his organs could be harvested, said Mark Nation, a lawyer for Penley's parents. Four families received the teen's organs.
"Our hope is there are several families that are celebrating that lives have been saved because of this tragedy," Nation said.
On Friday, Penley was in a Milwee Middle School classroom with the pellet gun when another boy scuffled with him for control of the weapon. Penley was later cornered by sheriff's deputies and a SWAT team in a bathroom, authorities said.
Maurice Cotey, who said he grappled with Penley, said he told school officials that he felt Penley's gun and wasn't sure the weapon was real, but did not tell officers until after the shooting.
"I said the gun started to come apart, but I wasn't really sure if it was a toy or a real gun," Cotey told The Orlando Sentinel in Monday's editions.
Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said the boy was suicidal and couldn't be talked into surrendering the weapon. The teen was shot after he raised the gun at a deputy, Eslinger said.
The sheriff said it wasn't until after the incident that authorities realized the weapon was only a pellet gun.
Nation said Saturday the boy's father, Ralph Penley, told authorities during a cell phone call as he rushed to the school after hearing of the confrontation that it wasn't a real gun. Nation said police wouldn't let the father inside when he arrived, and it wasn't clear if Christopher was shot before his arrival.
However, the Sentinel reported Sunday that Eslinger said Penley wasn't told of the events until after his son was shot.
"It's a total misunderstanding," Eslinger told the newspaper.
No one else at the 1,100-student school in suburban Orlando was injured.
The officer who fired, Lt. Mike Weippert, a 16-year SWAT team veteran, has been placed on restricted duty, a routine action when a deputy is involved in a shooting, Eslinger said.
The media was barred from the memorial service. Family and friends say the boy was emotionally troubled, reportedly bullied at school and had run away from home several times. Lewis said he "got along with everyone."
Mourners emerged from the church carrying candles, sobbing and hugging each other.
"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.
"It's just unbelievable to me that he's gone," said Bucky Hurt, a family friend. "It's very, very devastating. Good kid too — it's a tragedy."