First-grader kills classmate at school
MOUNT MORRIS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) – In a school shooting made especially disturbing by the age of the youngsters, a 6-year-old boy pulled a gun from his pants and shot a little girl to death in their first-grade classroom Tuesday in front of their horrified teacher and classmates.
The boy fired a bullet from a .32-caliber gun inside Buell Elementary near Flint, striking 6-year-old Kayla Rolland in the neck. She died a half-hour later.
Genesee County Prosecutor Arthur A. Busch said there may have been ”some sort of scuffle or quarrel on the playground” between the boy and girl a day earlier in which one slapped the other.
The boy, whose name was not disclosed by authorities, was questioned by police and released. Police would not say where he was sent, but earlier in the day, Chief Eric King said the boy would be put into the custody of the state child welfare agency.
”His actions were naughty, in his mindset,” Busch said. ”What he understood he did is another matter.”
The boy’s father is serving time in the county jail and the boy lived with his mother, a man referred to as an uncle and a younger sibling, Busch said. He didn’t know what the father was charged with.
Prosecutors did not say how they think the boy got the gun, though they said it had been reported stolen in December and was in the boy’s home.
On Tuesday night, investigators searched the home and found another stolen firearm – a 12-gauge shotgun – and ”some other evidence we’re in the process of sorting through,” Busch said. He would not elaborate.
Busch said five pupils were in the classroom, preparing to leave for the library, when the shooting occurred. The teacher, Alicia L. Judd, was standing in the doorway when the boy, who had the gun tucked in his pants, took it out and pointed it at another youngster, Busch said. The boy then turned toward Kayla and fired the only bullet in the gun, the prosecutor said.
The boy ran into a bathroom and dropped the gun into a trash can, Busch said. School personnel held him until authorities arrived.
Judd refused to comment about the shooting when reached by telephone and referred all questions to the superintendent.
Regardless of what the investigation reveals, it may be impossible to bring charges against the boy, the prosecutor said. But he said someone may face charges for enabling the boy to obtain the gun.
”There is a presumption in law that a child … is not criminally responsible and can’t form an intent to kill. Obviously, he has done a very terrible thing today, but legally, he can’t be held criminally responsible,” the prosecutor said. ”We will get to the bottom of how that gun got into that little boy’s hands.”
Chris De Witt, a spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, said the boy technically could be tried as an adult under state law if a judge finds he fits ”a number of tests.” But he added, ”It’s very doubtful that a 6-year-old would meet that test.” De Witt said a gun owner in such a case could be charged with negligence.
The boy is by far the youngest gunman in a series of deadly school shootings that have rocked communities around the country over the past three years. In 1998, two boys, 11 and 13, opened fire at a middle school in Jonesboro, Ark., killing four girls and a teacher.
”Where does it stop? First-graders shooting first-graders. The culture of violence is manifesting itself here with what occurred,” said Sam Riddle, a spokesman for the family of Isaiah Shoels, who was among 12 students killed by teen-age gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris at Columbine High School in April. Riddle grew up in Flint, 60 miles northwest of Detroit.
At Buell Elementary, Freddie Booth arrived after the shooting to look for his 8-year-old daughter, Fredricka.
”I don’t believe this is happening,” Booth told The Flint Journal. ”A first-grader shoots another first-grader. First-graders shouldn’t be able to get a gun. I just want my daughter out of here. She has been traumatized, I’m sure.”
A girl who identified herself as a classmate, 6-year-old Haili Durbin, told The Associated Press that Kayla had yelled at the boy because he spit on her desk and stood on it. Haili was interviewed with her father present.
When asked about the girl’s account, Busch said: ”I wouldn’t take that too seriously at this point. That’s not what we’ve learned from talking to several witnesses.”
About 500 children attend Buell Elementary, which is in an area of neat, small single-family homes. Other parts of the Flint suburb, which has a population of about 25,300, are run-down, with dilapidated homes and boarded-up storefronts.
”I moved out here because I’d thought it’d be safer for my grandkids,” said Katherine Sutton, who has lived in the area for five years. ”I thought things would be better, but I see it’s not.”
Classes Wednesday were canceled, but the school will be open for anyone in the community who wants counseling.
Debra Jones, who said she is a friend of Kayla’s parents, went to the family’s home after learning of the shooting.
”She smiled all the time. she was just a sweet, sweet little girl,” Jones said, tears rolling down her cheeks. She said Kayla loved the TV character Barney.
Jana Nicks, 6, said she and Kayla were friends and liked to play duck-duck-goose and freeze tag in recess. ”She was real nice and laughed a lot,” said Jana, who was in a separate first-grade class.
Third-grader Corey Sutton, 9, said he heard a bang Tuesday morning and thought a desk had fallen. Then, ”the principal came over the PA system and told teachers to shut their doors and lock them,” he said. ”I was scared, my heart was pounding.”
The teacher told students to line up and get their coats on, and when the kids were lined up ”she told us what happened. A girl got shot, and the teacher started crying.”
President Clinton, in Florida for a Democratic fund-raiser, said: ”Why could the child fire the gun? If we have the technology today to put in these child safety locks, why don’t we do it?”
The tragedy of young killers was highlighted in November in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac, where a boy who gunned down a stranger at age 11 was convicted as an adult of murder. Nathaniel Abraham, one of the youngest murderers in U.S. history, was sentenced in January to a juvenile detention center until he turns 21, after which he will be a free man.
He was the first youngster charged with murder under a 1997 Michigan law that allows children of any age to be prosecuted as adults for serious crimes. His lawyers argued that he did not have the mental capacity to form an intent to kill.