PORT ORCHARD (AP) — Crying and wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, a 9-year-old boy appeared Thursday before a juvenile judge who will ultimately determine whether the third-grader will face criminal charges in a school shooting that left a young classmate critically wounded.
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 just before classes let out. The boy appeared at a preliminary hearing Thursday afternoon.
During the hearing, the boy sat next to his uncle and father, who put his hand on the child’s back and rubbed it. A $50,000 bail was set and the boy would be released to his legal guardian, his uncle, if it is met.
Todd Dowell of the Kitsap County prosecutor’s juvenile division said 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.
Officials with the the Kitsap County Juvenile Department 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 the Wednesday shooting or release further information about the investigation.
The boy’s classmate, 8-year-old Amina Kocer-Bowman, remained in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after undergoing surgery for a gunshot wound.
The boy brought a gun to Armin Jahr Elementary, where it discharged from his backpack, piercing through and hitting Kocer-Bowman in the abdomen and arm, according to authorities. On Wednesday, Bremerton police characterized the shooting as accidental.
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.
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, they 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.
She said the classroom where the shooting happened remains closed and that the students from that classroom have been moved.
The school is in a quiet residential neighborhood about 20 miles west of Seattle, across Puget Sound.