STOCKTON, CALIF., JAN. 18 -- When Patrick Edward Purdy, the young drifter who gunned down five Asian American children in a schoolyard here Tuesday, walked into a welding class at San Joaquin Delta College in the fall of 1987, he did not like what he saw. Most of the students were from Southeast Asian families, eager and determined to grasp American opportunities that Purdy felt had passed him by. His resentment at seeing so many foreign faces, which he confided to another young machinist a few months later, seemed understandable in someone who had so much in his life to be bitter about. His mother had been an alcoholic, he told his coworker, Jim Mickelsen, adding that as a child he often felt that he had to raise himself. He told relatives of his despair when his mother bought a new car with the $5,000 in insurance money that he said he was supposed to receive when his father was killed by a car. Detectives here, in interviews with friends and relatives, are seeking more clues to when and why Purdy's vague disquiet over frustrated dreams turned to a deadly rampage in the rear yard of Cleveland Elementary School, where he himself played as a Cleveland pupil from 1969 to 1973. Stockton police Capt. Dennis Perry today displayed a few of the 100 green, two-inch plastic soldiers, with toy jeeps and tank, found scattered around Purdy's $95-a-week room at the El Rancho Motel here. He had carved words -- "Freedom," "Victory" and "Hezbollah," the name of a pro-Iranian Shiite Moslem faction in Lebanon -- on the stock of the semi-automatic Chinese-made AK-47 that he used to kill the five children and injure at least 29 more pupils and a teacher. Purdy, who police said was either 24 or 26 years old and had no known ties to any political group and few friends, may have had "delusions of grandeur" or a "military hang-up," Perry said. The chance for an explanation from Purdy was lost when he fatally shot himself in the head with a Taurus 9-mm automatic pistol, as children and teachers screamed in pain and fear around him. Additional questions were raised by other items that police found in his room, including a drawing on a piece of camouflage material of a cartoon boy closely resembling "Calvin" in the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes," a boy who often has humorous but violent fantasies. Purdy may have been influenced by his friendships at the St. Leo Hotel with Vietnam war veterans who made harsh jokes about Stockton attracting so many Southeast Asian refugees. According to Lorie Mackey, a Cleveland teacher who was close enough to see his face as she crouched on the floor of her classroom Tuesday, Purdy registered little if any emotion. "He wasn't talking or yelling," she said. "It didn't look like he was real angry. . . . It was like he was concentrating on what he was doing." To coworkers, relatives and acquaintances, that seemed more like the Eddie Purdy they knew. Most describe him as quiet, usually hard-working, always on time with his room rent and for appointments. But he deeply resented his mother, identified by police as Kathleen Toscano, for spending that $5,000 when "he was trying to go to school and camping by the river and trying to survive," said his aunt, Julie Michael, of Sandy, Ore. And he sometimes resisted authority. Dave Bratcher, a foreman at the Numeri Tech machine shop here, where Mickelsen also works, said Purdy walked off the job after a few weeks when there was not enough machine work for him. "He was told to push a broom, and he didn't like it," Bratcher said. Perry today showed reporters the arsenal that Purdy took to the school. For the AK-47, which he fired rapidly one shot at a time, he had a rotary clip (maximum 75 rounds) and a banana clip (maximum 35) rounds. The residue of shell casings and holes in the school walls indicate that he fired all 110 7.62-mm bullets. He carried three extra banana clips, marked with the words "humanoids" and "evil" and the initials "SSA," which may have stood for the Social Security Administration, from which Purdy had received benefits. He had two additional boxes of ammunition, which he did not use. Before entering the schoolyard, Perry said, Purdy lit the fuse on gasoline in a beer bottle and left it on the front seat of his 1977 Chevrolet station wagon. The car, with two open gasoline containers in the back, burned as he opened fire. According to Purdy's grandmother, Julia Chumbley, and his aunt, Julie Michael, the man who also used several aliases, including Eddie P. West, was born at Fort Lewis, Wash., on Nov. 10, 1962 when his father, Patrick Benjamin Purdy, was in the Army. Michael said the elder Purdy was stopped from serving in Vietnam when his only brother, then 17, was killed by a drunk driver in 1965. Within a few years, his marriage had dissolved. Cleveland Elementary School records show the young Purdy lived with his mother and stepfather, Albert Gulark, in a house near the school and that he was promoted on schedule until he left for another school after third grade. Michael said Purdy's mother's second marriage failed, and that by age 14, Purdy was often living on his own, drinking heavily and shifting between his parents. Purdy's father was killed in an accident in the early 1980s. His son was traveling and did not hear of his death for several weeks. Purdy studied to be a welder and machinist, and a 1987 resume under the name Eddie P. West shows him living in the Merrill Hotel. Early last year, he moved into the nearby St. Leo, where a clerk said Purdy's sister, Cindy, now a Lake Tahoe area waitress, and half-brother, Albert Gulark, were his only visitors. The St. Leo clerk, Akhtar Naheem, said when Purdy moved to Oregon in July, he left behind two hamsters, which his sister retrieved, and a notebook containing what Naheem recalls as "suicidal" statements and remarks like, " 'I'm so dumb, I'm dumber than a sixth grader. . . . My mother and father were dumb.' " While staying with his aunt and her husband 15 miles from Portland, Purdy purchased the AK-47, police said. Such weapons are available in many areas of the country, and Purdy apparently did not report his criminal record from California, including arrests for robbery and firearms violations. Perry said examination of the weapon shows that it was not modified for automatic fire but was still capable of firing both clips in two or three minutes while on semi-automatic. In Oregon, Michael, his aunt, said, Purdy appeared happy about his new Boilermakers Union card and his success in getting enough work to stop accepting social security payments under his father's death benefits. She said he stayed in touch. Police said he returned to Stockton Dec. 26 and checked in at the El Rancho Motel. He had paid up through Jan. 23. On the camouflage shirt and flak vest he wore to the school were written, "PLO," "Libya," "Earthman," and, apparently misspelled, "Death to the Great Satin." Special correspondent Matt Lait contributed to this report.
Jay Mathews Jay Mathews is an education columnist for The Washington Post, his employer for nearly 50 years. He created the annual Challenge Index rankings of high schools and has written nine books.