16-Year-Old Is Shot to Death In a High School in Brooklyn

16-Year-Old Is Shot to Death In a High School in Brooklyn

A youth trying to help his brother in a fistfight drew a gun and opened fire in the crowded hallway of a Brooklyn high school yesterday, and the wild shots killed a 16-year-old student bystander and critically wounded a teacher who was approaching to intervene.

After firing three shots with a 9-millimeter automatic, the young gunman escaped as the victims staggered and fell and screams and confusion engulfed the third floor hallway at Thomas Jefferson High School at 400 Pennsylvania Avenue in the East New York section shortly before 10:30 A.M.

But several hours later, a 14-year-old suspect, Jason Bentley, who had been identified by student witnesses, was taken into custody at his East New York home. After questioning, he was charged as an adult last night with second-degree homicide, first-degree assault and criminal possession of a gun.

As the police tried to untangle the confused accounts provided by sobbing and shaken students, city education officials called it one of the school system's worst crimes and noted that except for an accidental shooting in 1989, it was the first killing of a student in a school in more than a decade.

The slain youth, Darryl Sharpe, of 550 Sutter Avenue in East New York, a ninth grader who friends and teachers knew as a likable, average student who went home after school and was never in trouble, was the second city high school student slain in five days.

An 18-year-old McKee Vocational High School student was shot dead in a dispute with a youth on Staten Island last Thursday.

Thus far this year, the police say, 480 children under 16 have been shot in the city, many by the stray bullets of drug dealers and angry people armed with high-powered weapons.

The teacher shot yesterday was identified by the police as Robert Anderson, 48, a computer instructor who had taught at Jefferson High for eight or nine years. The police withheld his address because he was a witness.

The police said the fistfight that preceded the shootings apparently stemmed from a longstanding dispute between Jason Bentley's brother, Jermaine, 17, and Jesse Thompson, 17, though the reason was unclear.

Capt. John J. Finn, who announced the arrest last night, said Jason Bentley had drawn his gun to help his brother. When the Thompson youth saw the gun, he retreated down the hall, the captain said. He said Jason Bentley then fired three shots down the hall at young Thompson, but hit the two bystanders.

As Darryl Sharpe fell to the floor bleeding from the neck and the teacher, also bleeding from the neck, staggered into a classroom, screaming students scattered in terror and the assailant fled.

A police officer at the school on an unrelated case heard the shots, ran upstairs, gave first aid and summoned an ambulance, which took the victims to Brookdale Hospital. There, Mr. Anderson was admitted in critical but stable condition, but the youth was pronounced dead shortly before noon.

The two youths involved in the fight were not arrested. Law-enforcement officials said the pistol used in the shootings was not recovered, but they said they believed it was a 9-millimeter automatic and that it had been bought on the street recently for $50.

Jefferson High School -- the alma mater of scores of people who grew up in the Depression or World War II and rose to prominence in the arts, literature and other fields -- has long since lost the luster of a great academic steppingstone for the children of immigrants. No Metal Detectors

Today, in a city that has 1,000 public schools, including 120 high schools, with 950,000 students and a staff of 120,000, Jefferson is one of many public high schools struggling to cope with student violence and rising numbers of robberies and weapons.

But at the behest of its principal, it was not made one of the 21 high schools in the city where, since 1988, metal detectors have been used to find hidden knives and guns that many students say they carry to protect themselves from street violence.

The president of the United Federation of Teachers, Sandra Feldman, called Jefferson "one of several schools that are out of control because of poor security," and many of its 1,600 students said that weapons and violence were common in its hallways and classrooms, despite 13 security guards.

But its principal, Carol Burt-Beck, as well as the parents of many students and officials of the city school system, contend that Jefferson merely reflects the violence and toughness of the streets of its East New York neighborhood and the problems of the city and society.

"It's a tragedy, no question," Bruce A. Irushalmi, the executive director of safety for the city school system, told a news conference at Jefferson after the shootings. "And it's part of the tragedy of society that weapons are available to young people, and we find it more and more throughout our society -- and they make their way into schools eventually."

Ms. Burt-Beck, the principal, called the slain youth "a very special person," and added: "I am deeply, deeply hurt. I'm under control, but I'm very upset that this would happen to one of my children." She referred to Mr. Anderson, the wounded teacher, as "a person who would have stepped forward if he saw children getting into a fight."

The principal, Ms. Burt-Beck, later called an assembly of the students and warned that news reports would suggest that "everyone who attends Thomas Jefferson High School is violent and crazy and we all shoot each other," but she added: "and we know that not to be true."

She urged the students to search for calm and understanding amid the tragedy and to take advantage of an established school committee that seeks to resolve student conflicts without violence. She also said she had set up new groups to serve as liaison between the victims' families and the students and faculty, and to provide information and stem rumors within the school community.

Ms. Burt-Beck has been cited as one of the city's strong principals. Jefferson had long had one of the city's worst dropout rates, but that began to change since her tenure began and it has seen a steady drop in the four-year dropout rate, from 39.7 percent in 1987 to 33.9 percent in 1990.

Ms. Burt-Beck won a $10,000 "American Hero" award from Reader's Digest last spring for inspiring students and "bringing order to one of New York City's most violent high schools." She also made news by setting up a "grieving room," where students can go to work out feelings when tragedies strike. In her four years at the school, she estimated that 70 students had been shot or stabbed on the nearby streets of one of the city's most violent neighborhoods.