Father says man held in shooting in Colo. had taken odd turn

By P. Solomon Banda and Catherine Tsai
Associated Press / February 25, 2010

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LITTLETON, Colo. - The man accused of wounding two middle school students in a community still haunted by the Columbine massacre had become increasingly erratic in recent weeks, yelling at imaginary friends and complaining that eating macaroni and cheese made too much noise, his father said yesterday.

Investigators are looking into the bizarre behavior of 32-year-old Bruco Strong Eagle Eastwood as they try to figure out why the unemployed ranch hand allegedly showed up at his old school and started firing at students in the parking lot before being tackled by a math teacher.

Eastwood’s father described his son’s recent strange behavior in an interview with the Associated Press at his ranch outside Denver. The older man said that his son used to talk to himself a lot, but in the past month, he had begun yelling. The younger man also complained that the refrigerator was too loud and that certain foods made too much noise, his father said.

Others said Eastwood would show up at a nearby gas station to buy cigarettes, but was often 20 or 30 cents short, and would mumble to himself as he read the sports section of the newspaper.

“He has problems, but I never thought he’d go to the extent to hurt somebody,’’ said his father, War Eagle Eastwood. “You can say you’re sorry, but you can’t replace the fear and hurt he’s put in innocent people. He’s put a hole inside of me.’’

As the math teacher was being hailed a hero, officials said the quick response was further proof that the community learned the lessons of Columbine in quickly responding to the shootings. But there was growing evidence the school missed a chance to head off the attack.

Investigators said Eastwood walked through the doors of the Deer Creek Middle School earlier in the day, indicated he was a former student and chatted with teachers, apparently without drawing much suspicion.

Authorities said they didn’t know the nature of his conversations with school staff before he went outside and opened fire with a bolt-action hunting rifle he allegedly stole from his father.

A sheriff’s department spokeswoman, Jacki Kelley, said Eastwood left the building without being asked to do so. She said a school security officer was not at Deer Creek at the time. The officer also has duties at another school, but it hasn’t been determined where he was when the shootings happened, Kelley said.

Jefferson County schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson said only that there is a sign-in sheet that requires visitors to state their name and the purpose of their visit. She said school officials did not have access to the sheet for Tuesday because the school was closed as a crime scene.

David Benke, a 57-year-old teacher, said he heard one shot and saw the gunman squeeze off a second round before he sprang into action and tackled the man. Another teacher also helped subdue the gunman.

One of the wounded, Reagan Webber, was treated at a hospital and released. The mother of the other victim, Matt Thieu, said he was “doing well’’ at a hospital.