Police say teen killed at Torrey Pines left suicide note

Students wearing yellow shirts for suicide prevention awareness gather at a memorial for a 15-year-old freshman who was shot and killed by police over the weekend at Torrey Pines High School.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

When a 15-year-old summoned police to Torrey Pines High School early Saturday, May 6, he had a BB gun tucked in his waist band and a suicide note in his pocket, authorities said Monday, May 8.

Police said the note was discovered the day after the boy was fatally shot by two officers as he approached them with the gun drawn outside the Carmel Valley campus.

“We are confident he did plan for the incident to happen,” said San Diego police Lt. Mike Holden.

Investigators haven’t release the name of the teen, but friends said he was Jacob Peterson, a freshman at Torrey Pines.

He was fatally shot near the front of the school after someone called 911 shortly before 3:30 a.m. Saturday, May 6, and asked police to check on a boy at the school. Officers later determined the boy made the call himself.

Investigators didn’t release what the note said. Classmates said Jacob didn’t appear depressed, and administrators said there were no reports that he had been bullied.

“That subject didn’t come up as we discussed the student and his background and other issues that we should be aware of,” said Eric Dill, superintendent of the San Dieguito Union High School District. “I’m not saying it’s not possible, but that wasn’t something that was at the front of administrators’ minds as we were going through discussions today.”

“He just seemed like a good kid who showed up and did his work,” said Robbie Levinson, 17, who was in a law class with Jacob. “I guess he was having issues and keeping it more internal.”

On Monday, police identified the officers involved in the shooting as Officer Gilbert Flores, a 28-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, and Officer Kai Johnson, who has been with the department for four years.

The officers spotted the teen soon after arriving at the campus and as they got out of their patrol cars, he pulled what appeared to be a black handgun from his waistband, police said. It was later determined to be a black, semi-automatic BB air pistol.

Police said he ignored repeated commands to drop the gun and continued aiming at one officer while walking toward him. Fearing for their safety, both officers fired. The shooting occurred within a minute of police arriving.

Holden said dispatchers did not realize the person who called police was the same teen officers found at the school, and that the caller never disclosed thoughts of suicide.

Both officers had body cameras that they turned on during the incident, and the footage will be submitted to the District Attorney’s Office, Holden said. Investigators are expected to brief the office in the next coming days, but the full investigation won’t be submitted for months.

Police said officers involved in shootings are visited by fellow officers specially trained in peer support, department chaplains and psychologists. Officers are debriefed 24 to 48 hours after an incident occurs and spend at least three days out of the field.

Officers have been in daily contact with the boy’s family, the lieutenant said. On Sunday, Jacob’s mother said the family “is mourning the loss of a loving and wonderful young man” and asked for privacy.

Students at the Carmel Valley campus were in mourning as well, and the mood was somber Monday, students said.

“There was an air of melancholy,” said senior, J.C. Birkfeld, 18. “People (are) very upset and frightened at this tragedy.”

During classes, teachers started discussions about the incident and encouraged students to talk with grief counselors who were available if needed.

Students who knew Jacob said during interviews off campus that he was quiet, exceptionally smart and liked to talk about politics.

He also had a lighter side, and would make jokes and laugh, said Lindsey Hart, 15, who shared four classes with the teen.

Jacqueline Fisher, 18, was in a law class with Jacob and said he was intrigued by the mafia, loved the “Godfather” movies, and did a class presentation on the mob.

“He was a very special student,” Fisher said. “He was always sweet in class.”

At a memorial outside the campus, flowers, candles, rosaries and other items piled up, and students left notes and poems expressing their sorrow over the boy’s death.

“I’m sorry I never reached out to you or asked how your day was going when I saw how sad you looked,” wrote one student, who signed the name Annabelle.

“My friend was shot in the parking lot, but they forgot what his name was,” one poem read. “He was lost so he called the cops to read his thoughts and make it stop.”

One parent said the school had made several efforts over the years to raise awareness about mental health problems and to emphasize suicide prevention.

Sharon Rosen Lieb, whose daughter attends the high school, said the school offers a program called PALS that trains students to reach out to classmates who may be feeling depressed or isolated.

She said the campus also hosts an annual event where students can speak about family or social issues.

“Torrey Pines is a very aware place in terms of mental health issues,” she said. “That’s what makes this all the more tragic.”

Why we named the teen

The Union-Tribune does not typically publish the names of suicide victims, although exceptions are made in certain circumstances.

This is one of those cases.

The public nature of the act and the involvement of police officers make this a more complex story and one that is centered on the search for reasons behind the tragedy.

While some mental health experts advise media organizations not to publish the method used in a suicide – out of a concern that vulnerable individuals might be spurred to repeat the act – that information is unavoidable in this case.

Experts encourage media to act responsibly and to include information about suicide as a public health issue, which the Union-Tribune seeks to do with a separate story by reporters Paul Sisson and Gary Warth.

--Lyndsay Winkley and Deborah Sullivan Brennan are reporters for The San Diego Union-Tribune

--Staff writer Gary Warth contributed to this report.