A young man in full combat gear who sprayed a school playground with a Russian assault rifle, killing five children and wounding 32 others, was described as a troubled drifter with a long criminal history.

Within hours after the brief, furious and methodical attack at a predominately Asian elementary school Tuesday, a picture began to emerge of Patrick Purdy, 26, who killed himself after littering the schoolyard with dead and wounded children.Police said Purdy had many aliases and a long arrest record, including a weapons conviction. They said he had an apartment in nearby Lodi, although his car had been registered in Sandy, Ore., near Portland.

Deputy Police Chief Lucien Neely said Patrick West and Eddie Purdy West were two of the many names the gunman used and that cards he carried bore three different birth dates.

Officials opened Cleveland Elementary School Wednesday in hopes that carrying on normally would help soothe the survivors. Some 30 counselors were on hand to give individual and class counseling.

Five yellow buses pulled up at the school with only three or four students in them. The children stared with bewilderment at the police lines and crowds of news people.

Vanna Thana Kuhn, 15, said her 5-year-old brother, Van, stayed home and was watching cartoons on television. "He saw the shooting and now he doesn't want to go back to school," she said.

When he went to the school, Purdy was dressed in fatigues and a flak jacket and wore ear plugs. He carried two pistols and an AK-47 Soviet assault rifle with fixed bayonet.

The attack began when Purdy set his car on fire about noon in what police called a diversionary tactic. He then strode to the playground and began firing the automatic rifle with a full banana clip of ammunition, police said.

Police said one pistol bore the word "Victory" in white letters on the grip. One clip bore the letters S-S-A.

Investigators said he fired 50 to 60 rounds from the Soviet-made rifle, stepping out from behind a portable classroom and ducking back to reload.

Lori MacKey, who was teaching hearing-impaired students in the portable classroom about six feet from the gunman, said she could see his face clearly as he mowed the children down.

"I saw him holding this huge rifle. He just stood there with his knees slightly bent, just moving the gun back and forth, back and forth, firing at the students," she said.

"He was just staring at the playground. He had an intense look on his face. He was not smiling; he was not frowning. The man's expression was bland."

Bullets hit at least 37 youngsters, killing five of the children playing in the quiet, tree-lined enclave of downtown Stockton, 120 miles east of San Francisco.

Authorities said several children were in critical condition, and nine underwent surgery. Most of the victims were of Southeast Asian descent.

Police said Purdy's motive was a mystery and may never be known. About 70 percent of the students at Cleveland Elementary School are the children of Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants, but it was not known if that had anything to do with the attack. Purdy was too young to be a Vietnam veteran.

Police, relatives and neighbors described Purdy as a nice young man with a childhood drinking problem whose father was killed in a traffic accident in 1981.

He was placed on probation for a 1983 conviction in West Hollywood, Calif., for possessing a dangerous weapon. He also had arrests for suspicion of receiving stolen property and suspicion of possession of marijuana and hashish for sale.

Authorities in Sandy, Ore., where Purdy's aunt and uncle live, said he worked there briefly as a boilermaker but left in October to go to Texas, then to Connecticut and Tennessee before returning to California.

Sandy Police Chief Fred Punzel said, "He had several crises in his life, including the early death of his father," a cab driver killed in a traffic accident in 1981.

Purdy's aunt, Julie Michael, "came to pieces" during an interview with Punzel and "alluded to some other trauma type of things he had experienced."

"I met him last summer when he was here," said Pat Thomas, who shared a duplex with Purdy's aunt and uncle. "He kind of kept to himself. He just seemed like a nice guy."

Punzel said Purdy bought the AK-47 legally in Oregon, where he did not have to undergo a police check of his record because the weapon - which was not fully automatic when purchased but had been converted to fire on full automatic - was not concealable.

The students were caught between Purdy and the L-shaped school building when he opened fire.

"They never had a chance," said one witness who watched the massacre from his driveway across the street.

Survivors scattered in terror, seeking refuge in their classrooms, witnesses said.