Students hold hands as they are led along a walkway at Armin Jahr Elementary School following a shooting there Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012, in Bremerton, Wash. An 8-year-old girl was shot in the abdomen at the school and one of her classmates was detained, authorities said. The injured third-grader was airlifted to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center. Authorities said a third-grade boy was being questioned and a firearm was found in a classroom. (AP Photo/Kitsap Sun, Larry Steagall)
PORT ORCHARD, Wash. (AP) — Crying and wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, a frightened 9-year-old boy accused of accidentally shooting a classmate sat before a juvenile court judge Thursday as his father gently rubbed his back.
Bail was set at $50,000 during the preliminary hearing, and ultimately the court will determine whether the third-grader will face criminal charges as an 8-year-old girl remains critically wounded.
“I just want everyone to know that my kid made a mistake. It was a terrible mistake,” the boy’s father, Jason Cochran, said outside the courthouse.
If the bail is met, the boy would be released to his uncle, who is his legal guardian and who also sat by his side in the courthouse.
“He’s a good kid. It’s all I can say,” said Patrick Cochran. “I apologize to the family of that girl. I really do.”
Authorities say the boy brought a .45-caliber handgun he got from his mother’s house to an elementary school in Bremerton on Wednesday, and the weapon discharged from inside his backpack just before classes let out, critically injuring Amina Kocer-Bowman.
Todd Dowell of the Kitsap County prosecutor’s juvenile division said that under state law, children between 8 and 12 years old can face charges if a court determines the child has the capacity to understand an act is wrong. A capacity hearing in this case will be held in two weeks.
Kitsap County officials said both the child’s mother and father have extensive criminal records. Bremerton police Lt. Peter Fisher would not discuss whether authorities were investigating any adults in connection with Wednesday’s shooting, and he wouldn’t release further information about the investigation.
The boy’s classmate remained in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after undergoing surgery for a gunshot wound. Dr. Eileen Bulger said the girl will likely be at the hospital for several weeks and face further surgeries. She was sedated and on a ventilator but has woken up and interacted with her parents.
On Wednesday, Bremerton police characterized the shooting at Armin Jahr Elementary as accidental. A bullet hit Kocer-Bowman in the abdomen and arm, according to authorities.
The boy was being investigated for unlawful possession of a gun, bringing a dangerous weapon to school and third-degree assault charges. Authorities believe he came into possession of the weapon during a visitation with his mother over the weekend, according to charging documents released Thursday. The documents state that the boy told a classmate about five days ago that he was going to bring his “dad’s gun” to school and run away.
Twenty-seven states have some form of firearm child access prevention laws. Such laws can include criminal penalties for adults who allow children to get their hands on guns, but Washington is not one of those states, according to the San Francisco-based Legal Community Against Violence.
Gail Hammer, a law professor at Gonzaga University in Spokane, said it is very rare for a child as young as 9 to be charged with a crime. Even if a young child is convicted, he wouldn’t be sent to an adult prison, Hammer said.
“Generally with young children they try to deal with it in the juvenile system,” she said.
There have been shootings at schools that involved younger children. In 2000, 6-year-old Kayla Rolland, a Michigan first-grader, was fatally shot by a 6-year-old classmate who brought a gun from home. Last year, a 6-year-old kindergartner at a Houston elementary school accidentally fired a gun as he was showing it off to friends, injuring three students.
Bremerton Schools spokeswoman Patty Glaser said the school where Wednesday’s shooting happened, with about 400 students, was open for classes Thursday with 10 counselors available to talk with teachers, students and parents. The school is in a quiet residential neighborhood about 20 miles west of Seattle, across Puget Sound.
Patrick Cochran said the boy’s grandmother adopted him, but she died a year ago and he became the child’s legal guardian. He said he lives with the boy’s father, and his two sisters.
“I just want him back home,” Patrick Cochran said.