VISTA, Calif. – An electronics technician accused of wounding two young girls after opening fire at a Southern California elementary school pleaded not guilty Wednesday to attempted murder and assault.
Brendan O'Rourke, 41, showed little emotion and stood with his head down during his initial court appearance on seven counts of attempted murder and seven accounts of assault with a firearm.
Calling O'Rourke "an extreme danger," Superior Court Judge Marshall Hockett set bail at $10 million.
Prosecutor Summer Stephan said the gunman fired at two girls, ages 6 and 7, who "miraculously" escaped with minor wounds, then walked to another playground, where he shot at three second-grade boys and hit a post.
When a school aide asked what he was doing, O'Rourke tried but failed to reload when a bullet got stuck in the gun, Stephan said.
The suspect was captured when one construction worker hit him with a truck and others wrestled away the gun, the prosecutor said.
Stephan told the judge that O'Rourke had parked his car and jumped a fence onto campus, carrying a gun, a gas tank and matches. A propane tank was left at the car.
"A lot of good things happened in this case," the prosecutor told reporters after the brief hearing. "Thankfully, the damage is serious but minimal. No lives were lost."
Stephan said the attack at Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad, north of San Diego, was well-planned, but she offered no possible motives.
"All I can say is that I can't think of a good reason one would shoot at children," she said.
If convicted, O'Rourke could face a maximum sentence of life in prison for each count of attempted murder and 10 years for each count of assault.
O'Rourke had a brush with the law in 2002 in Illinois when he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor telephone harassment, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Bonnie Ramirez told the newspaper O'Rourke was rooming with her son in Springfield, Ill., in 2002, when O'Rourke was fired from an insurance company and fell into a deep depression.
Ramirez said her son tried to get O'Rourke help at a hospital, but nothing was done for him. Her son asked him to move out and O'Rourke became angry.
Ramirez said O'Rourke began calling them 20 to 30 times a day. At one point, he called 228 times over five days. she said.
"He was very, very disturbed," Ramirez, 68, told the Union-Tribune from her Springfield home.
O'Rourke was sentenced to one year probation and fined $300 after pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charge, the newspaper said.
Carlsbad police said the walls of O'Rourke's apartment in Oceanside had been painted with the words "destroy" and "Christian," and other writing indicated he was angry with the insurance companies AIG and State Farm.
O'Rourke worked as a phone or computer technician at NTN Communications Inc., a video entertainment firm in Carlsbad that installs games and video equipment in bars and restaurants, police Lt. Kelly Cain said.
The business is about two miles from Kelly Elementary, which serves one of the wealthiest communities in the U.S., a generally crime-free area about a 30-minute drive north of San Diego known for its scenic beaches and luxury resorts.
Michele Hincks, vice president of marketing, confirmed O'Rourke's employment but declined to say what he did.
"We are cooperating fully with police, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the two little girls and all those at Kelly Elementary," she said.
Oceanside police records show officers were dispatched to O'Rourke's apartment three times this year over noise complaints. Each time he refused to answer the door and the noise stopped.
(This version CORRECTS Updates with details. Corrects that gunman fired at three boys, not two. Adds byline, photo links.)