L.A. school officer shot, saved by vest

LOS ANGELES — A school police officer was shot by a suspected car burglar near a San Fernando Valley high school Wednesday but his bulletproof vest saved him, authorities said. Officers swept a wide area, locking down nine schools in a dragnet for the shooter.

"He is a lucky man. The vest did its job and stopped the bullet," Dr. Stephen Jones, medical director of emergency services of Northridge Hospital Medical Center, said of the officer.

The bullet bounced off Officer Jeff Stenroos' armored chest, bruising him, and he hit the back of his head on the ground when he fell down. But he had no internal damage and his wounds were not serious, Jones said.

"He is comfortable, he is talking, he is conscious and alert," said Steven K. Zipperman, police chief for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Jones said he spoke briefly with the officer.

"It was kind of a mixture of, 'Boy, am I lucky,' with the sheer ... impact of having someone point a gun at you and feeling the impact of the bullet," Jones said.

Nine schools with about 9,000 students were locked down as more than 350 police officers, sheriff's deputies and California Highway Patrol officers scoured 7 square miles of the affluent Woodland Hills neighborhood around El Camino Real High School for the gunman, described as man in his 40s with long brown hair.

"We believe we have him contained," said Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese, the city police incident commander.

Schools were released from lockdown as their areas were deemed safe. All students had been allowed to go home by Wednesday evening.

West Hills resident Uma Karuppiah, 39, waited for an hour at her younger son's school, Welby Way Elementary, then she lined up outside her older son's school, Hale Middle School.

Karuppiah said she didn't explain to her second-grader exactly why the school was locked down, but she was anticipating a lot of questions from her sixth-grader when he was released from school.

"I'll tell him the truth — that this kind of thing can happen, not just on TV and sometimes close to home," she said. "I think the response was an overreaction. At least at the elementary school. This school is closer to where it happened, but still."

Karothik Karuppiah, 7, said he had to share his lunch with classmates who didn't bring their own because no one was allowed to go to the cafeteria.

"We weren't allowed to go to the bathroom so the teacher put up a curtain in the closet and kids had to pee in a trash can," Karothik Karuppiah said.

Also Wednesday, a 16-year-old boy was shot in a restaurant parking lot near his high school in the Los Angeles suburb of Bell, authorities said.

The Bell High School student was shot once in the abdomen, but his vital signs were good when he was taken to a hospital, Bell police Capt. Anthony Miranda said.

A preliminary investigation determined the lone shot came from a pickup that sped away after the shooting, Miranda said. No arrests have been made, but authorities were questioning a person of interest in the case Wednesday evening.

The attacks occurred a day after an accidental shooting at a high school across the city wounded two students. Police said a gun that a student smuggled in a backpack accidentally went off in a class at Gardena High School in south Los Angeles.

A 15-year-old boy was shot in the neck and a 15-year-old girl was hit in the head with the same bullet.

The boy was listed in good condition, and the girl was in critical condition Wednesday but had shown promise by opening her eyes and moving her body to commands, a doctor said.

Three students were arrested in that shooting, but no students were involved in Wednesday's shooting, district officials said.

The 30-year-old Stenroos, an eight-year veteran, was patrolling sometime after 11:30 a.m. when he confronted a man who appeared to be breaking into some cars on a city street just off campus, Zipperman said.

The man got out of a car and fired several times, hitting Stenroos at least once in the chest, city Police Chief Charlie Beck said.

"The officer stumbled or made it back to his car, at which time a Good Samaritan, local resident, went to offer aid to the officer, got on the radio and put out the 'officer needs help' call," Beck said.

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