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on October 10, 2007
Some of the kids called him Jack Black, the loud, chubby, long-haired actor in the movie “School of Rock.”
He could be loud sometimes, all right, and his appearance cried for attention: his shock of wavy brown hair, his fingernails painted black, the dog collar around his neck, his faded rock concert T-shirts under a trench coat.
But there was another Asa Coon, an Asa Coon far more menacing than the loopy kid with the unkempt hair and faux Gothic look.
This was the Asa who always seemed to be in fights at school. This was the Asa who slapped around his mother. This was the Asa who talked about suicide.
And it was this Asa, authorities say, who walked into SuccessTech Academy Wednesday with a satchel full of guns and ammunition and opened fire on teachers and students.
“In the end, you never know who is going to snap,” classmate Aaron King said while heading home through a cold afternoon drizzle. “You have to watch who you make mad.”
What apparently pushed Asa’s troubled young mind over the edge was an argument with classmates about the existence of God. It happened a few days ago in reading class.
Asa said he didn’t believe in God and didn’t respect God.
Another kid disagreed.
Asa said he worshipped rock star Marilyn Manson. He flashed the other kid an obscene gesture.
After school, the two kids fought. Asa took a beating. Both were suspended.
“I’m going to get you,” he warned his tormentor. “I will get you.”
Some youngsters say Asa was goaded into fights and picked on. Even before the fight, he confided to friends that he was going to shoot up the school.
“I thought he was just kidding,” said Demar Tabb, 15, a classmate. “I probably should have said something, but I didn’t think anything would actually happen.”
True to his word, Asa entered his school on a steel-gray October day looking for revenge. He shot two teachers and two classmates before he put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He was 14.
Asa Coon grew up in a family where violence seemed commonplace. His older brother, Stephen, was twice charged with both domestic violence and assault by the time he was 13. He was recently released from prison.
Court records show that his father’s whereabouts are largely unknown.
The Department of Children and Family Services was called to the Coon home in 2000 because Asa had burns on his arms and scratches on his forehead.
When he was 12, Asa was charged in Juvenile Court with domestic violence. His mother, Lori, had called the police and told them that Asa slapped her and called her a vulgar name. She had been trying to intervene in a fight between Asa and his twin sister Nicole.
“He’s a very hyper kid,” said Rachel Metzger, who lives near the Coons. “He’s constantly yelling at his mom or anybody else. He’s pretty violent.”
Once in court, a magistrate ordered Asa to undergo psychological testing and follow the orders of doctors. The magistrate also ordered the family to undergo therapy together.
Asa immediately refused to obey probation rules. He threw the paperwork on the floor and charged out of the office, nearly knocking his mother to the ground.
After that, the magistrate wanted to send Asa to the Youth Development Center in Hudson. While waiting for a spot to open at the center, the boy was placed in the Jones Home, an interim shelter care facility on the West Side. He attempted to kill himself there.
Eventually, Asa was sent to the downtown detention center and placed on two medications, Trazodone, a anti-depressant and sedative and Clonodine, a medicine meant to treat high blood pressure but sometimes used to treat ADHD.
He spent a few days at Laurelwood Hospital before being released to home detention. The Laurelwood staff concluded that Asa had suicidal tendencies and was trying to push all “their buttons.” They thought he may be bipolar but agreed he needed more evaluation.
The relationship between the boy and his mother remained combative, Juvenile Court records show. One time, in front of a home detention officer, both of them screamed and cursed at each other because Asa had refused to take his medication.
His home detention officer also noted that the house Asa lived in on West 43rd Street was in a neighborhood plagued by drug trafficking and gangs. He wrote that the Coons’ front yard was cluttered with debris and dog feces.
Less than a month after the suicide attempt — Asa, then a seventh-grader at Thomas Jefferson School — was suspended for attempting to hurt another student.
“He had issues,” a teacher who once worked at the school said yesterday. “I was not surprised at all he was the shooter.”
There were times when it looked like things might improve. The home detention officer said Asa showed up for his appointments and was courteous.
Last November, Asa had completed his counseling, anger management classes and community service. After five months without incident, he was released from probation.
With all of his problems, nobody denied that Asa was smart. His friends say he liked to talk about the space program, the FBI and global warming.
Some even called him a genius.
They remember Asa building fantastic towers out of nothing but paperclips. He could take appliances apart around the house and put them back together. He also liked to help adults fix and build things.
“As long as he was busy with his hands, he was cool,” said a family friend who had known the boy since he was 6. “But when he was bored, he would lash out.”
Asa and his twin sister, Nicole, were total opposites, she said. He was somewhat withdrawn, had dark hair and preferred to sit inside and draw. She is outgoing, blond and preferred to play outside.
But Nicole Coon was inside her house when the police pulled up on a cool and rainy Wednesday afternoon with the bad news. Moments later, the girl bolted out the front door and collapsed in the street.
“My brother!” she cried as her mother climbed into a police cruiser and headed downtown. “Oh my God!”