San Diego

Officer Who Stopped Granite Hills High Gunman in 2001 Recounts His Actions 17 Years later

With all that has happened, very few can offer a perspective similar to that of now-retired police officer Rich Agundez.

This past week marked the anniversary of a somber day in San Diego County history.

On March 22, 2001, a student opened fire at Granite Hills High School, wounding two teachers and three students.

Seventeen years later, NBC 7 caught up with the school resource officer who many consider a hero for confronting and shooting the teenage gunman.

The anniversary comes a little more than a month after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and just days after the March For Our Lives, one of the largest civilian marches in the nation’s history.

With all that has happened, very few can offer a perspective similar to that of now-retired police officer Rich Agundez.

“I heard somebody say 'Those are gunshots,’ and I saw broken glass and I'm like uh-oh,” Agundez recounted.

He was the first-ever student resource officer from the El Cajon Police Department. His assignment was Granite Hills High.

“All I remember is like, 'Who is this big person dressed in all dark clothing and why is he shooting at my kids?'” he said. “I never saw his face.”

Agundez immediately ran toward the gunfire and shot and wounded the suspect, 18-year old Jason Hoffman.

He is sensitive to criticism of the deputy in the Florida school shooting who failed to go after the campus gunman, but in the end, like President Donald Trump, Agundez considers that deputy a “coward.”

“It's a tough job, and if you're not prepared to take action when it's needed, you need to find a new job. You just do,” he said.

Back in 2001, Agundez was behind an 'action plan’ being developed in response to shootings at Columbine, and just a few years earlier, at Santana High school in Santee.

It focused on locking students in class and closing blinds, something that has sadly become routine.

He said the plan originally was to have a lanyard and a bright-colored card identifying teachers.

As for last weekend's protests, Agundez praised students for standing up for gun control but said there's a bigger problem.

“I feel it's not the gun. It's the people, social media, bullying, medication,” he said.

Agundez says schools need to focus on security -- one way in, one way out -- but he knows there are no guarantees. As for arming teachers, he says it’s a bad idea.

“It's very difficult because if a person is in the state of mind where they want to attack -- I had my guy pass two police cars when he walked up to the school to start shooting.”

Agundez’ emotional connection to the students and teachers on campus at Granite Hills that day in 2001, and at every school shooting since, is evident.

“It's tragic. It makes me sad, every time,” he said. “Every time it makes me sad. It just does. And I don't understand it. I don't know how we came to this point in humanity." 

The shooter Jason Hoffman committed suicide in jail in 2002, months before he was scheduled to be sentenced for the shooting.

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