High School Freshman Red-Flagged at Age 14

Eli Pagunsan one year before he was red-flagged as a potential school shooter by the Riverside County, California School District. (Photo courtesy Eli Pagunsan.)

USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- Eli Pagunsan’s life changed forever when California officials branded him as a potential school shooter.

It’s not easy for Eli Pagunsan to talk about the ordeal that began seven years ago, when he was a high school freshman in Riverside County, California. His life was destroyed. He briefly considered suicide as a way out.

When he looks back, the now 22-year-old feels a mix of “anger, anguish, and fear.”

“There’s a part of me that needs this story to be told,” he said. “I’ve been trying to tell people about it. I didn’t understand that what happened to me was wrong until I went to therapy.”

Life has never been easy for Pagunsan. He has always been an outsider and somewhat of an introvert. His parents immigrated from the Philippines. Pagunsan was born in Arkansas. He says he grew up the victim of frequent abuse, which was meted out by his father.

“We’ve reconciled now. I’ve forgiven him, but I remember whenever he was mad at us, he’d strip us naked and beat us with whatever was closest – a vacuum pipe, electrical cord or belt,” Pagunsan said.

At one point, he said, his father made him tell his teachers he was “worthless,” and that he wouldn’t be coming to school anymore.

After his parents divorced, an ex-Army officer who was helping raise Pagunsan told him he would either be a heroin addict or shot by police, and that he would be a “juvenile delinquent.”

All three assessments were wrong.

As a young man, Pagunsan found solace in reading, video games, and history.

“I used to be a big fan of World War II films like ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific,’ he said. “I played a lot of ‘Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault.’ I found out that my family fought as guerillas against the Japanese, and I’m very proud of that.”

Pagunsan’s great-grandfather was a carpenter on Luzon when the Japanese invaded.

“He had a choice to either run or fight. He fought with the Americans. He was captured and survived the Bataan Death March. He lived until 1978 when he died of lung cancer,” Pagunsan said.

While most kids his age were socializing and interacting with others, Pagunsan was playing video games, reading in the library, or writing.

He joined a writing club when he was only 12 years old.

“I still get a weird, cathartic feeling creating characters that are based off of experiences I have had,” he said. “I get satisfaction from writing – being able to improve upon it feels good.”

All of Pagunsan’s hobbies and interests would play a role in what was to come.

Potential Shooter!?

Rather than becoming a juvenile delinquent as the Army officer had predicted, Pagunsan gravitated toward law enforcement.

He became a police explorer – a hands-on program for kids interested in making law enforcement a career, which offers training, competitions, character development, and physical fitness.

One evening in 2014, Pagunsan received a call from his police explorer instructor – a sworn law enforcement officer.

“The first thing he asked me was, ‘Are you going to shoot up your high school?’” Pagunsan recalled.

The instructor ordered Pagunsan and his mother to report to his school’s main office the next day, promptly at 8 a.m.

There, they were met by another police officer, who told them Pagunsan had tripped the “Kids with Guns” protocol, and that he was now “red-flagged” as a potential school shooter.

They were also told officers would be searching Pagunsan’s bedroom.

Pagunsan knew his rights – especially his Fourth Amendment rights – and he told his mother that police would be looking for anything to support their conclusion that he would become a school shooter. He was particularly concerned about his screenplays, his video games, and the fact he enjoyed reading about World War II.

He pleaded with his mother not to allow the police to search his room.

Pagunsan’s mother grew up in the Philippines when Ferdinand Marcos was in power. Marcos, a notorious and bloody dictator, ruled with an iron fist until he was deposed in 1986. His military and police had the authority to kill anyone who disagreed with the dictator’s policies, so the thought of refusing to comply with police was something Pagunsan’s mother would never do.

“When she grew up, if the police knocked on your door that was the warrant,” Pagunsan said. “If you refused to let them in, you’d be taken out and shot.”

She let the officers in.

“That sealed my fate,” Pagunsan said.

(Photo courtesy Eli Pagunsan.)

The Search & the Set-Up

Officers tore Pagunsan’s room apart. They found no firearms or other weapons. Neither Pagunsan nor his family owned a gun.

Instead, police focused on his screenplays and books.

One of the officers threw a manuscript onto a table in front of Pagunsan.

“What’s this? Is this your kill list?” he demanded.

“It was a list of characters I’d created,” Pagunsan recalled. “None of them were real people. It was titled: ‘Character sheet.’”

Another officer ordered the youth not to move from the couch.

“What’s in your room that’s got you so nervous?” he asked, menacingly.

By this time Pagunsan was dying inside.

Police interrogated him about his books: an old Army field manual on infantry tactics and books about World War II and other military subjects.

They tried to make him admit he was a danger to himself and other students, and that the best place for him was behind bars in a juvenile correctional facility.

The officers eventually left empty-handed, and Pagunsan believed the ordeal was finally over until he was ordered to report to the school district’s main office the next day.

There, he attended yet another disciplinary meeting, with the vice-principal who had red-flagged him and the school district’s chief disciplinarian.

They explained that Pagunsan had been red-flagged under the district’s “Kids with Guns” protocol, even though he had no guns, and that the school district had acted to “stop a potential school shooter.”

Pagunsan instantly felt shame sweep over him. He began to question himself – he still does – even though he had never even considered violence. These were adults and authority figures, after all. He was a 14-year-old.

The district’s disciplinarian looked at the reports in front of him, which had been written by school and police officials, and told Pagunsan he was going to be expelled.

Pagunsan was never charged with a single crime.

The Flawed Protocol

The School Threat Assessment and Response (STAR) protocol used by schools in Riverside County, California was created by officials from the school district, probation department, District Attorney’s Office, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, social services, the courts, and the county’s behavioral health department. Dozens of other agencies have signed on.

The 10-page document, which was last updated in 2018, has a list of 25 “High Risk” Indicators:

  • Typically between ages 11-16.
  • May not have ever been arrested or been to Juvenile Court for a law violation.
  • Few or no friends.
  • Withdrawn, excessive feelings of rejection.
  • May have moved frequently.
  • Feelings of being picked on and persecuted.
  • Depression.
  • May have difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures.
  • May have suicidal comments or self-mutilated.
  • Maybe a victim of violence/abuse.
  • Pattern of angry behavior.
  • May have history of tantrums, explosive rage.
  • May have felt bullied, persecuted by others.
  • Violent or dark themes.
  • Discussion, drawings, writings, fantasies, video games, posters, music, computers, internet, text and cell phone activity.
  • Preoccupation with guns, explosive devices or possibly other dangerous weapons.
  • Animal cruelty.
  • Torture or mutilation of animals in the past.
  • Past history of setting fires.
  • Verbal cues.
  • Talks about something “big” happening.
  • Talks about being noticed/becoming famous.
  • Makes specific threats against a person or group.
  • Access to guns and knowledge of their use.
  • Parents may minimize or deny.

“A youth may have more than one high risk characteristic and never commit a violent offense,” the document states. “However, we all want to be aware and to do everything possible to immediately assess a threat to prevent a tragic situation from occurring.”

Pagunsan believes the list is far too broad.

“If you look at that list – other than hurting animals or setting fires – almost every kid in America could be considered high risk, especially boys,” he said.

The Aftermath

Pagunsan’s alternative school was 100% online. He worked remotely from his computer at home.

“I loved it,” he said. “I did far better than in public school.”

There was, of course, no socialization with other kids.

“Most of my friends were online anyway,” he said. “We kept in touch.”

During breaks, he would play video games and read history books.

Despite his newfound academic success, he could not come to terms with being branded as a school shooter.

“I was scared to tell anyone what happened to me,” he said.

He still suffers the effects today. He has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), severe depression, and general anxiety disorder.

His counselor told him that his young age – he was only 14 when he was red-flagged – may have increased the severity of his disorders.

“I get nervous talking to cops. I’m very polite, but the hair stands up on the back of my neck. I try hard to please other people, because I don’t want to be labeled, again, as the guy who wants to shoot up a school or a business.

“I don’t trust people my own age. They’re too quick to judge,” he said.

He now has a better relationship with this mother.

“She didn’t get it. Now, she does,” he said. “She’s proud of me. She understands what happened and why it was wrong.”

Nowadays, Pagunsan doesn’t trust anyone in authority.

“I did,” he said, “once upon a time.”

Pagunsan is a licensed security guard in Arizona. He’s single and lives alone, except for his puppy Kelsie, a 50-pound German Shepherd.

Before the recent ammunition shortage, he enjoyed shooting at a nearby range, especially when he could take someone who was new to the sport.

“I loved taking new shooters out there,” he said.

He wants parents to know that if their child is ever confronted by officials as he was, they should not let police into their home.

“They will try to pressure you. They’ll tell you the search will be quick. It won’t take long. They’ll use every trick in the book,” he said. “Get a lawyer immediately.”

He wants lawmakers to consider the human toll of red-flag laws.

“Think about how this affects someone. Maybe the next person this happens to won’t be as strong as me. Think of how this person is going to feel in a world that they already believe is pushing down on them,” he said. “Think about what that does to someone, especially long term.”

Pagunsan has spoken to a few local Second Amendment groups about his ordeal, but he is not sure if this will continue. Nowadays, his primary goal is to get better.

Said Pagunsan: “Despite everything that’s happened to me, I am doing a lot better than I used to. No one thought I would be, and that’s given me a sense of pride. I’m at a place where people are interested in what I have to say, and that’s a great feeling.”

Eli Pagunsan today, touring Japan. (Photo courtesy Eli Pagunsan.)

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About Lee Williams

Lee Williams, who is also known as “The Gun Writer”, has been writing about the Second Amendment, firearms, the firearms industry, and the gun culture for more than 10 years. Until recently, he was also an editor for a daily newspaper in Florida. Before becoming an editor, Lee was an investigative reporter at newspapers in three states and a U.S. Territory. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a police officer. Before becoming a cop, Lee served in the Army. He’s earned more than a dozen national journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. Lee is an avid tactical shooter.

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CourageousLion
CourageousLion
1 month ago

So apparently “Minority Report” is becoming a documentary. This is a disgusting abuse of power and this is why we need to privatize the police.

KK
KK
2 months ago

I wonder haw many “Gangsta thug” types in inner city schools are being “red flagged”.

Longeno
Longeno
1 month ago
Reply to  KK

Great point! One need only to look at the senseless murders in Chicago and you’re get your answer.

gunnerdd517
gunnerdd517
2 months ago

wow. I`m overwhelmed. This young man is an excellent writer. What he went thru, should be illegal. I agree with him. If police have no warrant, do not agree to let them in.

Pastor Roy
Pastor Roy
2 months ago

I’m gonna add this young man to my prayer list. Sure hope he continues to turn his life around and not allow himself to be the victim of the stupidity of wicked people.

Mystic Wolf
Mystic Wolf
2 months ago

Funny thing is by the standards listed in the article I would have been redflagged big time. There were a lot of the kids in school with me that would push me around till I stood up and knocked a few teeth out and busted a few noses. What this fellow went through should never have happened, he does even today has a basis for a lawsuit and should file one to clear his name of any wrong doi g as he did nothing wrong.

Tionico
Tionico
2 months ago

During this same time period a high school senior in Parkland Florida who was KNOWN to have committed at least three (and probably four) violent felonies against persons, was deliberately NOT dealt with, thus was able to “legally” (as in, consistent with the letter of existing law) purchase an AR pattern rifle, then DESPITE ha\ving a court order prohibiting him from entering the premises of his former high school (he’d been expelled BECAUSE of one of those felonies mentioned above) was seen entering the camups WITH what was correctly identified by school “security” police as a rifle case….. and ignored.… Read more »

HLB
HLB
2 months ago

Support for Eli Pagunsan from Mississippi.

HLB

Idaho Bob
Idaho Bob
2 months ago

Eli, you have a friend in Idaho. Leftists (communist) are the least tolerant and most under educated, educated idiots alive in the USA today. They all must have sat around and watched “Minority Report” and thought to their selves, we can do that. We can read the thoughts of people before they even have them. We will be the heroes. Instead they are zeroes with no lives of their own. They live for the collective, because the collective doesn’t have an original individual thought. They are told how to act, what to do and who the enemy is. That enemy… Read more »

Circle8
Circle8
2 months ago

This is what happens when you live in an occupied state like PIG-LOSI and NEW SCUM’s communist state. Their school system is exactly like the Nazi schools of the 1930 and 40’s.

GomeznSA
GomeznSA
2 months ago

Good for this kid and how he is growing beyond this horrendous series of events.
Is there any way he can back track and determine what specific event(s) started the ball rolling downhill? And even more importantly, WHO started that ball rolling. There has to be something that ‘triggered’ this ordeal. That person needs to be held accountable. THAT is the single biggest danger of ‘red flag’ laws or erpos – just like SWATing there seems to be little to no accountability for whoever initiates those acts which are frequently done out of pure maliciousness.

hippybiker
hippybiker
2 months ago

Never let the social workers or police into your house without a proper warrant! Call an attorney right away!

MikeRoss
MikeRoss
2 months ago

This is terrible, that poor kid. The bullying behavior of the police is especially worrying, we shouldn’t feel confident that local police wouldn’t go along with unconstitutional gun confiscation orders. And that list of ‘high risk indicators’ is nuts, the kid is right, most boys could be red-flagged based on that list.

Finnky
Finnky
2 months ago
Reply to  MikeRoss

My thought as well. Never met a kid who didn’t check majority of the boxes on that list. Certainly a lot of adults (20-80) also check a few. The standard does say that a kid could meet one or more of the standards and still not become a mass murderer. Gee you think that maybe a few kids don’t become killers? Heck I’m well over the ages they are discussing, but I can still check over a half dozen item including (1) obsession with and (2) access to firearms. Didn’t include feeling persecuted or picked on – despite efforts of… Read more »

KenW
KenW
2 months ago

I’m going to post what I posted on Lee’s web site:
What did the authorities do when there was a real potential school shooter like in Parkland FL? Nothing! They let it happen.

CourageousLion
CourageousLion
1 month ago
Reply to  KenW

It is a lot easier to disarm kids who aren’t armed then to disarm ones that are. One is actually a threat to your life as a chick shit yellow backed cop.

nrringlee
nrringlee
2 months ago

I would expect to hear a story like this out of Cuba or the former Soviet Union. But Kalifornia is close. Their red flag laws are insane. There are many cases of raids like this having no reasonable cause to justify the actions. Police state. That is what it is.

musicman44mag
musicman44mag
2 months ago
Reply to  nrringlee

And what washington is and oreGONE is becoming. I see it happening all over again for the third time. Time to leave oreGONE. The traitors are ruining what was once a free land and the good people will pay the price in loss of freedom because of what others did. That is how the systems work now. It’s not the person does the crime and they do the time, it’s the person does the crime and we all get stipulations, regulations, requirements and fees to do what was once free if we are allowed to do it anymore at all.

gregs
gregs
2 months ago

i feel for this kid. i grew up being beaten by my father, alcoholic who didn’t need a reason. and because of that wasn’t very social, still am that way until i really get to know someone. i, like him, had every reason to grow up and become a serial killer, but like him also, became a civilized member of society. you can overcome things in your life, abuse, addictions, etc. that makes you a stronger, more empathetic person, not a school shooter/serial killer. school boards, administrators, police do nothing to prevent a school shooter. just look at parkland and… Read more »

Finnky
Finnky
2 months ago
Reply to  gregs

You and this kid turned out despite best efforts of those around you in your formative years.

Best we can do to help kids growing up is to have realistic-high expectations and offer sympathy with any setbacks. Note “setbacks” because nothing is actually a failure if you get up and keep going. Teach resilience, expectations and responsibility.

RayJN
RayJN
2 months ago
Reply to  gregs

The goal is to disarm everyone BUT the criminals. They want the public helpless so they will submit to their dictatorship.

APG member
APG member
2 months ago

One more reason to keep your children out of government indoctrination camp.

nrringlee
nrringlee
2 months ago
Reply to  APG member

Universal vouchers now. Government indoctrinates, segregates and perpetuates class and ethnic divisions. Churches educate. Look at the history of Western Civilization.

Parabellum
Parabellum
2 months ago
Reply to  nrringlee

The answer is not universal vouchers that perpetuate dependence, the answer is to get the government out of education.

musicman44mag
musicman44mag
2 months ago
Reply to  APG member

I think that is why demonkkkrats didn’t like President Trumps idea of vouchers to send your kids to a school that you approved of. They were afraid that they would loose so much school funding because their indoctrination camps would become so small that it would destroy them. I am not catholic and I do not approve of the catholic religon but if my choice was that or my kid being taught about how to properly have sex at age 8, Critical Race Theory and the 1619 project, they would be going to catholic school and I would gladly use… Read more »

Grigori
Grigori
2 months ago

What a horrible miscarriage of process this young man has been subjected to! He has had the deck stacked against him literally since birth, yet has succeeded where the pressure would have destroyed others. The cops, principals, counselors, and others who abused him with their profiles should all be made to stand trial for slander and child abuse. If found guilty, their lives and livelihoods should be destroyed, just as they tried to destroy his.

I wish him well. He has come far. He has overcome tremendous obstacles. He will continue to triumph.

musicman44mag
musicman44mag
2 months ago

Poor guy. Too bad people were mean to him because he was of another ethnicity I assume. He could have had a much better life if he were treated the same as everyone else but kids are cruel, self serving and very clickish but not all. I don’t see where taking him out of school and forcing him to complete school via a computer further ostracizing him from society was a good thing. Feeling that you are part of a team and contribute to something is a good feeling and very important for growth. If anything these so called experts… Read more »

Autsin Miller III
Autsin Miller III
2 months ago

I believe there was a comment about Mr. Williams bringing some serious reporting to the site and my compliments he has certainly done so. This is an important story that needs to be heard by everyone. Thank you for your work.