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School shooter used antidepressants

Psychiatrist says pills Hoffman took are safe

By Alex Roth

April 19, 2001

The student accused of wounding five people with a shotgun at Granite Hills High School had been seeing a psychiatrist before the shooting and had been prescribed two antidepressant medications, his attorney said yesterday.

Jason Hoffman, 18, had been diagnosed as clinically depressed and had been prescribed Celexa and Effexor, both of which treat the illness, Deputy Public Defender William Trainor said.

"I would say the drugs he was prescribed may help explain his actions," Trainor said.

Trainor said possible side effects of the medication "is certainly an area I want to explore." But one psychiatric expert said yesterday that both medications are safe and almost certainly aren't responsible for a sudden violent outburst.

Deputy District Attorney Dan Lamborn wouldn't comment on the reports of the medications or depression.

Meanwhile, court records in Los Angeles shed some light on Hoffman's early childhood, showing that his father struggled with alcohol and once spent time in jail on a child-endangerment charge.

In the records, Hoffman's mother accused Hoffman's father of tossing the 1-year-old boy into the deep end of a pool "to see how long it would take the minor to float." When the boy was 7, his father would urinate on him in the shower, the mother, Denise Marquez, alleged in the documents filed in 1990. The father, Ralph Hoffman, denied any wrongdoing.

The parents apparently never married. Marquez said they separated in 1983. She said she moved out of Hoffman's house in 1983, when she said he threw the boy, then 3 months old, across the room at her.

Search warrant documents show that police who searched Jason Hoffman's El Cajon apartment seized several bottles and boxes of medication belonging to him. Hoffman lived in the apartment with his mother. She didn't return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.

Police searched the apartment March 22, hours after Hoffman arrived at the school with a shotgun, opened fire at the school's dean and eventually wounded five students and teachers.

Authorities said Hoffman -- whom classmates have described as quiet, moody and prone to angry outbursts -- went to the school intending to kill dean Dan Barnes. Hand-written statements given by Hoffman to police after the shooting suggest he felt Barnes was out to get him, and Barnes was somehow to blame for his failure to get into the Navy, a source said.

Trainor said yesterday that his research "indicates that the drugs that were prescribed are extremely powerful antidepressants with the most dangerous side effects."

Dr. Saul Levine, chairman of the psychiatry department at Children's Hospital and Health Center in Kearny Mesa, said neither drug is associated with violent outbursts.

"I would be very astounded that these played any role whatsoever in enabling him to do what he did," said Levine, who also heads the psychiatry department at University of California San Diego.

Trainor wouldn't comment yesterday on when Hoffman had been prescribed the medication or how long he had been seeing a psychiatrist. He also wouldn't comment on whether depression runs in Hoffman's family.

Reached by phone several weeks ago at his Los Angles home, Hoffman's father refused to comment on the allegations by the mother, other than to say, "The truth will come out."

In a statement filed in 1990 in response to Marquez's allegations, Hoffman described himself as a responsible but strict parent who had overcome his problems with alcohol. He also accused Marquez of making false charges against him and suggested that the boy was difficult to raise.

"Any time Jason doesn't get his way, he throws a tantrum and I don't let him get away with it," his father stated.

The elder Hoffman also requested that "the court order Ms. Marquez into parenting classes so she can learn to cope with the problems of raising this boy."

A preliminary hearing in connection with the Granite Hills shooting is scheduled for May 10.


Copyright 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
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