PORT ORCHARD, Wash.>> A frightened 9-year-old boy accused of accidentally shooting a classmate sat before a judge in juvenile court, crying and wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, as his father gently rubbed his back.
Thursday’s scene came a day after police said the boy accidently shot a fellow third-grader, and raised questions that will be played out in the legal system: Did he know what he did was wrong? And is anyone else responsible?
Bail was set at $50,000 during the hearing where preliminary charges were filed, and ultimately the court will determine whether the case against the third-grader will continue.
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.
An uncle, Patrick Cochran, is the boy’s legal guardian and also sat by his nephew’s side in the courthouse. The Seattle Times reported late Thursday the boy had been released on bail. The Kitsap County Juvenile Detention Facility said it couldn’t comment and a juvenile administrator did not immediately return a phone call. Court arrangements provided that the boy would be released to his uncle and placed under house arrest if bail was met.
"He’s a good kid. It’s all I can say," Patrick Cochran said earlier Thursday. "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.
Her father, John Bowman, said in a statement that if not for the quick actions of his daughter’s teacher the girl would likely have died. "Had she not administered first aid and stopped the bleeding from the gunshot wound, this event would have surely been tragic," Bowman said.
The teacher, Natalie Poss, told KING-TV on Thursday night the shooting was "a teacher’s worst nightmare."
She recalled hearing a loud bang, then seeing the little girl slump. Poss told students to go get help.
The teacher located the gunshot wound and applied pressure until medics arrived, telling the girl, "Stay with me, Amina!"
Todd Dowell of the Kitsap County prosecutor’s juvenile division said that his office had enough information to charge the boy on Thursday. However, the child will not be arraigned until the court determines whether he has the capacity to understand that what he did was wrong.
Under state law, children between 8 and 12 years old can face charges if a court makes such a determination. A capacity hearing in this case will be scheduled in two weeks.
Kitsap County officials said both the child’s mother and father have 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. A bullet hit the girl in the abdomen and arm, according to authorities.
The boy was charged with unlawful possession of a gun, bringing a dangerous weapon to school and third-degree assault.
Authorities believe he got 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. The gun discharged after the boy slammed his backpack down on a desk, the documents said.
"He has a lot of good in his heart," Poss said of the boy. "I know he didn’t intend this to happen. And I know he’s hurting tonight."
Court documents show Jamie Lee Chaffin, who is listed as the boy’s mother in a child support case, sued the boy’s father for failing to pay child support. She also has been in and out of the court system, according to court documents. In 2005, she was arrested for possession of meth in Bremerton, but pleaded guilty to a drug paraphernalia charge. She also was convicted of marijuana delivery and forgery.
Jason Cochran has been convicted multiple times for violating protection orders regarding Chaffin.
In twenty-seven states, there are 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 has no such laws, 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.
In Olympia, the Seattle Democrat who chairs the state Senate Judiciary Committee said this case points to a lapse in state law. "We do not hold people very accountable in this state for leaving guns around the house with small children," Sen. Adam Kline said.
Kline said that he would consider a bill to address it during the next legislative session next year, but didn’t sound hopeful of its chances.
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. That boy was not criminally charged; prosecutors said he was too young to be held responsible. 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.
As court officers led the boy away after the hearing, his father hugged him and gave him a kiss. Both had tears in their eyes.
Associated Press writers Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Wash., and Nicholas K. Geranios in Spokane, Wash., contributed to this report.