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Students who tackled gunman hailed as heroes
Students who tackled gunman hailed as heroes

ARROYO GRANDE 77 Fifteen-year-old Clay Gheza and 16-year-old Jonathan Griswold, two quick-thinkers in Friday/s capture of a gun-wielding student at Arroyo Grande High School, will receive special commendations from a grateful city, according to Arroyo Grande Police Chief Rick TerBorch.

"I/m going to see that these two young men are recognized by the City Council," TerBorch said. "They saw something that needed to be done and took action."

Nancy DePue, superintendent of Lucia Mar Unified School District, characterized the pair as "real heroes."

In a special ceremony, yet to be announced, the two will receive commendations signed by Mayor Tony Ferrara and members of the City Council. The citations could be presented as early as the next council meeting.

As the town and the high school struggle to return to normal, many in the city are betting that even greater honors for the two lie ahead 77 awards and commendations from places beyond the Central Coast.

"They prevented possible bloodshed," one unidentified person said. "The White House needs to recognize their bravery."

Unlike situations at other schools, no one was injured and credit for that goes in part to Carolyn Swanson, the English teacher in Room 207. Swanson remained calm and talked to the anxious, gun-wielding young man until an aide could escape to call for help and Gheza and Griswold could disarm the boy. The teacher has said she was concentrating on the gun and had little time to be afraid.

The mother of the high school sophomore who pulled out the gun at school said earlier this week her son wants to apologize to his teacher and thank the two boys who overpowered him.

The mother, whose name was withheld to protect the identity of the teenager, also said she wants to apologize and extend her thanks. The boy/s mother also said the teen obtained the gun from home. "It was in the garage, buried in the garage," she said.

Police said they believed the boy intended to kill himself.

The sequence for the three began a little after 9 a.m. in Room 207, a single-story structure that faces an open quad. The teacher was beginning her world literature class when a student pulled a deadly 9 mm semiautomatic handgun from beneath his desk and ordered Swanson to sit. The gun was loaded, cocked and aimed at Swanson. The youth carried two additional clips of ammunition.

As the boy edged toward the back of the room, Jonathan Griswold made a move. He pushed at the boy, pinning him and the hand that held the gun between a table and one wall. Quickly Gheza stepped forward to help.

"I was losing my grip on his arm when Clay joined in," Jonathan said.

The two then immobilized the boy and held him until school administrators could arrive in a matter of seconds. Together, students and adults held the youth until police arrived.

Police will not release the boy/s name. He is a minor and will probably be charged as one. The youth is currently being held at the Juvenile Services Center in San Luis Obispo and is undergoing psychiatric evaluation, officials said.

After she arrived at school to meet with her son, Janell Griswold, Jonathan/s mother, was apprehensive but proud. "My first thought was, /Oh, what was he thinking? Putting himself in such danger!/ " she said. "But now that I/ve heard the whole story, I know that he had a long time to think about it."

Jonathan credits God/s help. "There is no way we could have gotten through this without it," he said.

Jonathan is the oldest son of Bob and Janell Griswold. He has four younger sisters and attends Grace Church in San Luis Obispo, where he and his sisters are active in youth groups. Bob Griswold is employed at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The other hero that day was Swanson. Her calm helped to defuse the situation.

Swanson told police that, along with an adult aid, she spent nearly 10 minutes talking with the armed boy before Gheza and Griswold found an opportunity to disarm the youth.

On Tuesday, when she returned to class after Monday/s Martin Luther King holiday, the school district held an early morning briefing in the very room where the event occurred. The meeting included Principal Robin Kisinger and the 32 students who were in the room Friday. Counselors were also on hand to help put the terrifying incident into perspective.

School officials have said that students should share in the credit. They reacted appropriately, did exactly what they had been trained to do and did not become emotional, one official said.

After the incident was over, Clay Gheza possibly put the incident in his own perspective: "If it was another class, someone else would have done it."

* Staff writer Bob Behme can be reached at (805) 489-4206, Ext. 5014, or by e-mail at bbehme@ pulitzer.net. This story was prepared with the help of freelance writer Richard Bastian. The Associated Press also contributed to this story.

Jan. 22, 2003

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