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September 2001

Agent Richard Agundez and Deputy Sheriff Angela Pearl

El Cajon (CA) Police Department | San Diego County (CA) Sheriff’s Department

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has announced the selection of Agent Richard Agundez and Deputy Sheriff Angela Pearl as the September 2001 Officers of the Month. Agent Agundez is with the El Cajon (CA) Police Department and Deputy Sheriff Pearl currently serves with the San Diego County (CA) Sheriff’s Department.
 
There have been more than a dozen schoolyard-shooting incidents across the United States in recent years—each one permanently scarring the families, school officials and communities involved. Nowhere have these attacks on our campuses occurred so close in proximity and time that as the attacks at two San Diego, California high schools. Two persons were killed and 13 injured during the attack at Santana High School on March 5, 2001. Fortunately the local authorities responded immediately by tightening security at local schools so that when a second shooting took place at Granite Hills High School on March 22, 2001, a crisis management plan was already in place. This coupled with the intervention of two dedicated officers prevented any loss of life or serious injury in this assault.

In October 2000 Agent Richard Agundez, Jr. of the El Cajon (CA) Police Department, was assigned to Granite Hills High School as its full-time resource officer. After the shooting at Santana, he was even more determined to keep the students and staff at Granite Hills as safe as possible. He took his responsibility to the school and the community very seriously.

On March 22, 2001 at approximately 12:55 p.m. an eighteen-year-old student walked onto the Granite Hills campus armed with a shotgun and semiautomatic pistol. The student, a burly senior with close-cropped hair, parked his gold Dodge pickup in the bus loop just as fifth period got underway. With a 12-gauge pump shotgun swung over his shoulder, and wielding a .22-caliber handgun, he brazenly walked past the Dean of Students and began firing randomly into the school’s windows and doorways.

The 2,900 students, faculty and staff were still struggling with the after-effects of the early March tragedy. Agent Agundez was in the Administration office when he heard the shots. Luckily San Diego County Deputy Sheriff Angela Pearl happened to be in the Vice-Principal’s office, following up on another investigation. Despite their different law enforcement areas of expertise, these two police officers quickly became a team. The two reacted simultaneously to the gunfire running into the corridor and gave chase after the shooter.

The suspect began to fire rounds into the windows of the office doors that the police officers had just exited. Agent Agundez immediately located the shooter and returned fire. Deputy Pearl covered Agent Agundez as the two pursued the shooter who was now retreating toward the street on the north side of the campus. The chase commenced when the suspect fell to the ground after having been shot twice by Agent Agundez. One of the rounds fired by the officers had actually struck the shotgun rendering it inoperable. Deputy Pearl was able to control the teenager while Agent Agundez placed him in handcuffs. 

Injuries to school officials and students were generally minor. One 16-year old boy received pellet wounds to his arms, face and chest. Other shooting victims injured by glass shards were treated at local hospitals and released. The shooter recovered from his injuries and is awaiting trial.

Richard Agundez’ keen interest in law enforcement began at the age of sixteen. He participated in a ride-along program with the San Diego Police Department. He joined the cadet program in El Cajon at the age of nineteen and two years later joined the department as a full-time police officer. Reflecting on his nearly 20 years of police service, Agent Agundez feels blessed with the opportunity to work and influence children. “I really like helping the children and looking out for their future.” Career highlights include seven years with the El Cajon SWAT Team, culminating with his selection as El Cajon SWAT Officer of the Year for 1998. In addition, he was selected as El Cajon Police Officer of the Year for 1999.  

Angela Pearl has been a deputy sheriff for seven years. Originally from a small town in Arizona she sought challenges and new experiences in her life. Her search brought her from Arizona to San Diego, California. She attended San Diego City College and earned an Associate of Arts degree in Journalism and subsequently joined the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. A major influence in Deputy Pearl’s choosing law enforcement as a career was an uncle, a former United States Secret Service agent who had been assigned to President Gerald R. Ford’s protection detail. Career highlights include two years as a correction’s deputy before her promotion to deputy sheriff.  As a result of her efforts at Granite Hills High School, Deputy Sheriff Angela Pearl earned the Medal of Valor. Recalling the chaos that March day, she said, “I realized I could step up and do what was necessary to protect lives.” 

The tragedy of this event would have been much greater had these two police officers not worked as a team. Together they immediately responded to a deadly situation and assumed great personal risk to protect others in harm’s way. Both officers were described as “lifesavers.” Principal Georgette Fitzpatrick Torres gave high praise to Agent Agundez and Deputy Pearl. She stated, “We call Rich our hero. He had the entire situation under control within 90 seconds, and that day Angela was nothing less than Rich’s Guardian Angel.”
 
“Rich is an outstanding police officer and he was a real hero this afternoon,” El Cajon Police Chief James Davis said later that day. Captain Lori Bird, Deputy Pearl’s immediate supervisor, says, “Angela is always willing to step up and help her partners. You can always count on her when you need her.”