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Calif. teacher apologizes for firing gun in class but offers no explanation

City council member Dennis Alexander speaks during an election forum in Seaside City, Calif., in 2010. (David Royal/Monterey County Herald/AP)

A Seaside, Calif., teacher apologized Thursday evening for firing a gun at the ceiling in a high school class, an incident that resulted in minor injuries to a student.

But Dennis Alexander, who is also a reserve police officer in the nearby town of Sand City, offered no explanation for what officials have described as the “accidental” discharge of his weapon. He declined a local TV reporter’s request for an interview.

Alexander has been trained in gun safety as a reserve police officer. The gun, police told KSBW 8, was a Glock 21 .45 caliber handgun, generation 4, which was his service weapon.

Daniel “PK” Diffenbaugh, superintendent of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, has said that Alexander was not authorized to carry a firearm on campus. He has been placed on administrative leave by the school district as well as the Sand City police department.

KSBW reported that the Monterey County district attorney is weighing charges against Alexander.

The episode happened amid a national debate about arming teachers in the wake of the mass killing at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. It has attracted wide attention as an example of how even a teacher trained in firearms safety can pose a hazard in school.

Alexander offered his first public comments at a meeting of the Seaside City Council, of which he is a member. “First of all, I want to apologize from the bottom of my heart,” he said, according to video broadcast on KSBW. “I can’t find the words to say how sorry I am for the incident. I also want to thank all of those who showed support. It helps a lot. It gets me through the day.”

A California teacher accidentally discharged his firearm during a class March 13. (Video: Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

A group of students at the school showed up at the council meeting in support of Alexander. They have also circulated a petition in the hope of saving his job. Students have described him as a popular mentor.

Numerous questions remain about the incident. Alexander, according to school authorities, was teaching a public safety course. Fermin Gonzalez, the father of the injured student, told reporters that it was his understanding that the teacher had told the class before pointing the gun at the ceiling that he was doing so to make sure his gun wasn’t loaded. But that’s something that can be determined visually. Trained gun users do not point guns to find out if they are loaded, much less pull the trigger.

Why he brought the gun to school in the first place remains unanswered, along with why it was loaded.

How it was “accidentally fired” remains a mystery, as well.

The injured student,  Seaside Police Chief Abdul Pridgen told the Monterey County Weekly, was struck in the neck by “debris or fragmentation from something overhead.” His father said the boy didn’t receive medical attention until he arrived at an aunt’s house several hours after the event. The aunt called the parents, who took the teenager for medical treatment.

Police, as well as school officials, say they will not offer further comment until an investigation is completed.

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