Police seek 2 more youths in school shooting

The teen accused of shooting at a Middleton High student is a gang member, police say.

Published June 8, 2007

TAMPA - With two suspects already in jail, Tampa police are still searching for leads on two additional youths suspected of involvement in Wednesday's shooting at Middleton High School.

Police say Ariel Cruz, 17, approached Octavious Laundry, 17, in a courtyard outside the school Wednesday afternoon and shot at him once with a .22-caliber gun.

Laundry ran inside just after Cruz pulled the gun, and a thick glass door blocked the bullet.

Prosecutors said they are considering charging Cruz as an adult. Police say he is a known gang member.

A 16-year-old was turned in late Wednesday by his mother and charged with trespassing on school property along with Cruz. Police are seeking a third youth who accompanied Cruz onto campus and a fourth accomplice who may have driven the green sedan the group used.

'Troubled kids'

Although Cruz is thought to belong to a gang, police are not sure yet whether the shooting was related to a gang dispute, said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

"All of these kids are involved in criminal activity," McElroy said. "They're troubled kids."

At Cruz's court appearance Thursday, prosecutors rattled off his prior offenses, for which he has served probation four times. The charges include petty larceny, battery on a law enforcement officer, a weapon offense and battery.

Prosecutors made reference to possible gang involvement, but Cruz's mother and assistant public defender disputed it.

Senior Circuit Judge Perry Little ordered Cruz held in a secure juvenile detention center for 21 days.

If adult charges are filed, Cruz would be transferred to the county jail.

Cruz's mother declined to comment after the hearing.

Fights not uncommon

Laundry himself was once arrested on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon after he was accused of shooting Wesner Toussaint, 16, in the neck during a January fight. Police reports said Laundry and two others approached Toussaint, who was shot as he fled. Toussaint knew Laundry and told police that Laundry attended Middleton.

But McElroy said nothing indicates the two shootings are related.

Middleton High School reported 19 fights and 14 incidents of threats or intimidation between the start of the 2006-07 school year and March 27, the most recent period for which such statistics are available, said Linda Cobbe, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County school district.

Those statistics are about average for violent incidents in Hillsborough high schools, Cobbe said.

Middleton, which has 2,000 students, reported fewer fights than some other comparably sized schools. Hillsborough High School reported 33 fights and two cases of intimidation, and Armwood High School reported 27 fights and six threats.

Armwood also reported one incident of gang-related violence.

Safety is tricky issue

Cobbe said schools rarely report gang-related fights.

"We have members of gangs who attend school, but generally they know that the school climate is not where you deal with your gang issues," she said.

Cobbe said the district's security chief recommended that Middleton do a better job of securing fences and gates around campus, but there are no plans to install a metal detector or to fence in the entire campus.

She pointed out that Wednesday's incident occurred when Cruz approached Laundry in an outside courtyard.

"Where would you put detectors? In the parking lot?" she asked.

Steve Kaufer, a California school security consultant, said ensuring a safe campus requires encouraging students to report potential fights or trouble spots.

Students oftentimes plan fights in advance, giving schools an opportunity to learn about and prevent violence.

"It's often well known in a school before something happens that there's going to be an incident," he said.

"It's in the school's best interest to really promote the fact that to keep a safe environment, students need to share this kind of information."

Times staff writer Colleen Jenkins contributed to this report. Sarah Mishkin can be reached at smishkin@sptimes.com or (813) 225-3110.