By Juan A. Lonzo
HOUSTON — A student taken into custody for his own protection Wednesday at his Houston-area high school shot himself with a hidden gun while handcuffed inside a patrol car, authorities said.
The student, a senior whose name was not released, was conscious when taken to a hospital and was in critical but stable condition Wednesday evening.
Police say deputies searched the 17-year-old before placing him in the back of the patrol car and are investigating how the gun was not discovered.
Galena Park school district spokesman Jonathan Frey said deputies picked up the student between 10:30 and 11 a.m. Wednesday at North Shore High School after he sent a text message to a friend saying he wanted to hurt himself.
"He was taken into custody to protect him for his safety," Frey said.
Capt. Jon Moore with the Harris County Precinct 3 constable's office, which provides security at the school, said deputies handcuffed and escorted the student to a patrol car.
Frey said the student was searched by deputies before being placed in the vehicle. Deputies were driving away with the student and taking him to a hospital when he apparently retrieved a gun he had on him and shot himself in the back of the head.
"Somewhere the gun was hidden really well. A gun was never retrieved off of him," Frey said.
Moore said his agency is still investigating the shooting and how the student obtained the gun.
Christina Garza, a spokeswoman for the Harris County sheriff's office, which is also probing the incident, said investigators have found that the student had made threats to harm himself prior to Wednesday.
Frey said he was not aware of any previous problems at his school involving the student.
The campus, which has about 3,000 students, was not locked down after the shooting, and classes continued after the incident. But afterschool activities were canceled and counselors were called in, Frey said. Counselors will be on campus Thursday as well.
"We just hope that he gets better," Frey said.
Wednesday's shooting is similar to one in July in Jonesboro, Ark. In that incident, 21-year-old Chavis Carter was in the back of a patrol car when he fatally shot himself in the head while his hands were cuffed behind his back. A state crime lab report concluded that Carter was on meth at the time.
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Copyright 2012 Associated Press