The 16-year-old boy killed at Westfield Southcenter mall Saturday had just been released from one of the state's most-secure juvenile lockups and wanted to become a lawyer to help other young people in legal trouble, one of his teachers said Sunday.

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The 16-year-old boy killed at Westfield Southcenter mall Saturday had just been released from one of the state’s most-secure juvenile lockups and wanted to become a lawyer to help other young people in legal trouble, one of his teachers said Sunday.

Daiquan Jones, who had served time in the last year at Green Hill in Chehalis, returned a week ago to classes at Opportunity Skyway, an alternative school in South Seattle, to work on his high-school degree, said Dan Richman, a teacher at the school.

“He came back and he said, ‘I don’t want to go back there,’ ” Richman said. “He seemed like he had a real good attitude.”

As school staff absorbed the shooting Sunday, Tukwila police continued to search for the gunman who killed Jones and wounded another teen at the mall.

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Police spokesman Mike Murphy said officers had “substantial leads,” including surveillance tapes and eyewitness statements, and expected to soon make an arrest.

Murphy said he wasn’t prepared to say if the shooting was gang-related. But he said the victims and shooter flashed gang signs and engaged in “antagonizing behavior.”

“We’re still investigating, and don’t know if it was gang-related or a personal issue,” he said.

Only one weapon was fired and investigators found no evidence that anyone else who was involved had a gun, Murphy said.

The other victim, Jermaine McGowan, 15, was upgraded Sunday to satisfactory condition at Harborview Medical Center.

McGowan was due in court Monday, The Associated Press reported, citing authorities. King County court records show he was charged this year with robbery.

Security was heightened at the mall Sunday with uniformed guards standing in every entryway and plain-clothed detectives patrolling inside. The parking lot was about two-thirds full by afternoon, and some merchants said business was slower than usual.

“A lot of customers are asking if we’re OK,” said Sprite Srigrarom, general manager of three restaurants at Southcenter, including Thai Go and the Noodle Zone.

Srigrarom was working in the second-level food court when the first shot rang out about 3:45 p.m. Saturday. When a second shot followed, he said he knew instantly what was happening.

“I thought, ‘Not now, not here,’ ” he said.

Terrified shoppers hid under tables or ran for the exits. Some jumped from the second-floor food-court balcony to the parking lot below, Srigrarom said. Police locked down the mall and searched unsuccessfully for the gunman, believed to be a black male in his late teens or early 20s.

Among those shopping at the mall when the shooting occurred was Cindy Ortega, the principal of Interagency Academy of Seattle Public Schools, which oversees alternative-school sites that include Opportunity Skyway. She was there with her 28-year-old daughter and her 9-month-old child.

When she heard on the news the name of the person killed, she wondered if he was a student in her program because it sounded familiar.

“We do work with highly at-risk youth,” Ortega said, adding that she later confirmed that Jones was a student at Opportunity Skyway.

“He had all sorts of plans of getting his life together and this happened,” Ortega said.

McGowan, the other victim, is not on Interagency program’s roster, Ortega said.

Jones pleaded guilty

Richman, the Opportunity Skyway teacher, said he didn’t know why Jones was serving time at Green Hill, which is called a school and houses some of the most serious juvenile offenders in the state.

According to King County court records, Jones has pleaded guilty at least 13 times since 2006 to robbery, assault, residential burglary, harassment, criminal trespass and theft.

Before being sent to Green Hill, Jones had been at Opportunity Skyway for about a year and was making good progress, Richman said.

“He had always been a good student, a kid who made an effort and seemed to be thinking about doing something different about his life and responded to our teaching,” Richman said.

He said that’s why he gladly agreed to take Jones back when a state parole official inquired about Jones returning to the school.

“He was a funny kid,” Richman said. “He would be kind of quiet and then his smile would sneak up.”

When Jones returned to school last week, he was filled with enthusiasm and quietly mentioned his interest in becoming a lawyer to help kids facing legal troubles, Richman said.

Richman said he encouraged Jones to pursue that path and Jones became “wound up” about the idea.

“It’s a hard day for all the teachers at Opportunity Skyway and we’re really going to miss him,” Richman said.

Police focus on behavior

Tukwila police said gang issues pose special challenges for the mall. Teenagers tend to dress alike and “ninety-nine percent” don’t get into trouble, said Murphy, the Tukwila police spokesman.

“How can you tell the difference between a kid who’s getting rowdy and a kid who’s there to do a shooting? You can’t,” he said. “Mall security can be accused of profiling if they start picking out people based on how they look.”

Instead, he said, police and security guards focus on behaviors such as large groups congregating, loud, boisterous behavior, adversarial behaviors and flashing gang signs. A shooting at the mall in March was found to be gang-related, Murphy said.

People arriving Sunday morning said they’d heard about the shooting but weren’t worried about their safety. Many young teenage girls came for an early showing of the vampire movie, “Twilight.”

Pamela Wood, of Bellevue, accompanied four 12-year-old girls to the movie. She said she’d read about an increase in gang activity in the region but decided that the day after the shooting “might be the safest of all options.” She also said the shooting appeared to be between people who knew each other and “wasn’t a random act.”

Jason Romano, of Enumclaw, was visiting Southcenter for the first time since the extensive remodel. He said he grew up in the Renton area and spent time at the mall as a teenager 20 years ago but stopped going because gang activity got to be “very visual.”

“It wasn’t a good place to go,” he said about the old Southcenter Mall.

Kat Varela, 13, was at Southcenter for the early movie. She said she liked the mall and would continue shopping there.

“I do not think any less of this place because of the shooting,” she said.

Howard Baker and Dale Brown stopped for lunch at Southcenter on Sunday on their way to the Seahawks football game.

Baker said a shooting could happen anywhere and wouldn’t affect his plans. Brown questioned why the young men apparently had to settle their differences violently.

“Why would it come to a gun?” he said.

Staff researcher David Turim and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305.

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