CLEVELAND — Anguish and sorrow fill this city as teachers, parents, students, public officials and the community as a whole try to make sense of the tragic Oct. 10 shootings at SuccessTech Academy.

Delegates to the monthly meeting of the North Shore AFL-CIO stood for a moment of silence that evening in sadness over the incident in which two teachers and two students were wounded and Asa Coon, the troubled 14-year-old shooter, who was white, took his own life.

David Quolke, vice president of the Cleveland Teachers Union, said the teachers were still trying to piece together the events and conditions leading up to the tragedy at the municipal school district’s most elite high school.

SuccessTech has little more than 200 students, he said, and strict grade and entrance requirements aimed at creating a learning environment for very bright, highly motivated students. The curriculum includes college-level classes and an emphasis on science and technology. It operates under a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and was named by the state just the previous week as one of Ohio’s “Schools of Promise.”

“This would be the last place you think they would have an incident,” said CTU President Joanne DeMarco.

In fact, guns were confiscated from students at three other Cleveland high schools that week.

News reports indicated that the highly intelligent Coon snapped after being suspended for fighting in school as he struggled daily with the impact of an extremely violent and chaotic home life.

Coon was described as a voracious reader, who liked to debate international affairs and discuss politics, philosophy, global warming, the space program and the FBI. At one time he told his teachers he had stayed up all night reading Malcolm X, Leon Trotsky and Noam Chomsky. In December he won the Cleveland schools citywide chess championship.

At the same time police and social workers were continually being called to his house. His older brother was twice charged with domestic violence and assault by the time he was 13. He was recently released from prison. There was evidence that Asa was a continual victim of his brother’s violent attacks.

His father was absent and his mother was unable to cope with ordinary life. The home was a shambles and neighbors complained of violent arguments. Asa was placed on medications and was in and out of youth detention centers.

Teachers said he struggled to control his anger and said he did not want to become like his brother.

Meryl Johnson, a longtime union activist and trustee of the CTU, decried the layoffs of social workers and psychologists from the Cleveland schools.

“We just don’t have big enough arms to put around these kids,” she said. “The supportive services have been outsourced. The counselors are overloaded and forced to focus entirely on testing because of ‘No Child Left Behind.’

“They don’t have time even to listen to kids who are in trouble.”

Predictably, the school district is responding to the incident with plans for increased security.

“But the truth is,” Johnson said, “this is not a school problem. The schools will never be safe until the neighborhoods are safe.”

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