Judge to rule if boy (9) will face charges in schoolgirl shooting
A day after a nine-year-old boy appeared in court crying and wearing an orange jail jumpsuit usually worn by adults in the dock, a judge in Washington state was last night weighing whether he will be arraigned on criminal charges in the accidental shooting of a fellow student in an elementary school classroom.
Police officials in Bremerton, west of Seattle, said the boy set his backpack on his desk as a class was ending on Wednesday and a gun inside accidentally discharged.
The bullet pierced the abdomen of eight-year-old Amina Kocer-Bowman, who remained in a critical condition yesterday.
Looking dazed and in tears, the boy sat in the courtroom at an initial hearing on Thursday as his father, Jason Cochran, rubbed his back. Bail was set by the judge at $50,000 (€37,000). If bail is met he will be released from a local juvenile detention centre into the care of his legal guardian, an uncle.
Prosecutors said they mean to charge the boy with unlawful possession of a gun, bringing a dangerous weapon to school and third-degree assault.
In Washington, a minor aged between eight and 12 years can face criminal charges but only if a court determines that they have the mental capacity to understand what they have done. Judge Anna Laurie, who will rule in this case, attempted to gauge the boy's mental ability at the hearing.
"Do you read at grade level?" she asked him. After looking for help to his father and his uncle, he replied: "I have a little trouble reading."
Natalie Poss, his teacher, said she heard a loud bang and then saw the girl slumping at her desk. It was, she said, "every teacher's worst nightmare". Insisting the boy had "a lot of good in his heart", she said she was surprised he would bring a gun to school.
Both the boy's parents, police said, had extensive criminal records.
He had been in the care of a grandmother until her death a year ago, and had since been under the uncle's guardianship.
Investigators said the boy had taken the gun from his mother's home during a parental visit. He had earlier boasted to a classmate that he would bring "his Dad's gun" to school.
"I just want him back home," Patrick Cochran, the uncle, said after the court hearing. "He's a good kid. It's all I can say. I apologise to the family of that girl. I really do."
Jason Cochran similarly defended his son. "I just want everyone to know that my kid made a mistake. It was a terrible mistake," he said.
Most legal experts say it is very rare for someone so young to be charged with a crime.
Gail Hammer, a law professor at Gonzaga University, said that even if the boy were to be convicted, he would not go to an adult prison.
"Generally with young children they try to deal with it in the juvenile system," she said.
In 2000, six-year-old Kayla Rolland was fatally shot by a six-year-old classmate in Michigan who brought a gun from home but the boy was not charged. (© Independent News Service)