SAN FRANCISCO – A tranquil day at a Northern California preschool was shattered when an escaped inmate burst through a door and pointed a gun at the head of a teacher caring for several infants, the preschool's owner said Tuesday.
The inmate, identified as 24-year-old Maurice Ainsworth, had just stolen the gun of a deputy who was overpowered while she was trying to reshackle him at a Santa Cruz hospital, authorities said.
The unidentified teacher at The Secret Garden Too preschool was on the floor playing autoharp for three infants when a man broke through a fire door waving the gun, preschool owner Cathy LaTorre told The Associated Press.
A parent picking up her infant and another teacher ran out the back of the room and called 911, she said.
The gunman demanded the teacher's car keys and tried to flee in the vehicle parked in the school's parking lot, but an anti-theft device prevented him from starting the car, she said.
About 30 children were at the school at the time. No one was injured.
Deputy Cathy Bramanti was transporting Ainsworth from Dominican Hospital around 11:30 a.m. Monday when he escaped, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
The 6-foot-7-inch, 275-pound inmate punched the 12-year veteran several times in the face, severely bit her finger and shot her in the ear with her Taser stun gun, causing lacerations, Santa Cruz County sheriff's Sgt. Dan Campos said.
Ainsworth then grabbed Bramanti's handgun, fired and missed a female bystander who was trying to help the deputy as he ran to the preschool.
During a news conference, Sheriff Phil Wowak called Ainsworth's hospital visit a "ruse" and praised Bramanti's bravery.
Wowak said Bramanti is recovering at home and added that he will review his department's inmate transport policy.
The manhunt involved foot patrols and air units before ending late Monday afternoon when Ainsworth was captured in a vacant house.
Deputies believe Ainsworth ingested medications at one of the homes he broke into, the newspaper reported. It's unclear if he tried committing suicide, Wowak said.
Ainsworth had been in jail on charges of committing a home invasion robbery.