Courts & Crime

8-year-old Washington girl shot at elementary school

An 8-year-old girl was in critical condition Wednesday evening after she was shot in the abdomen at a Bremerton elementary school, and police are calling the shooting an accident.

The victim, identified as third-grader Amina Bowman, was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. She underwent surgery less than five minutes after arriving and was in intensive care, hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said Wednesday evening.

Bremerton police said a 9-year-old boy was booked into the Kitsap County Juvenile Detention Center for investigation of unlawful awful possession of a firearm, bringing a dangerous weapon onto school grounds and third-degree assault.

A gun was found in a classroom at Armin Jahr Elementary School but it is unclear where the boy got the weapon. Police said the gun was in the boy’s backpack when it discharged, striking Amina.

“We’re very early on in our investigation,” police Lt. Peter Fisher said. “We’re in the process of processing evidence and conducting interviews.”

Bill Poss, whose wife, Natalie, was the third-grade teacher in the classroom when the shooting happened, said his wife called the boy a “troubled child” who altered the dynamics of an otherwise peaceful classroom. He also said the boy recently transferred to the school.

Amina’s grandmother, Cindy Kocer, told KOMO-TV the family expected the little girl to recover and asked people to pray for her. She described her granddaughter as quiet and smart.

Emergency responders were dispatched to the school about 1:30 p.m. as students were leaving for the day. Witnesses reported hearing a loud boom and then somebody came on the school’s loudspeaker system and called for a lockdown.

Protocols require teachers to lock their classrooms, said Bremerton Schools spokeswoman Patty Glase. The lockdown was lifted about 2 p.m. and parents were allowed to pick up their children on foot.

The school, which has about 400 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, will reopen today. Grief counselors will be available for students, teachers and parents.

Parent Sharrae Sevier of Port Orchard said her son, Darnell, was in a classroom next to the class where the shooting took place. He told his mother he heard a gunshot and a short time later a voice came over the intercom telling the students the school was on lockdown.

“They were all huddled together under the teacher’s desk, and everything was really quiet,” Sevier said.

Darnell told her he was confused and had no idea what had happened, said Sevier, who rushed to the school when she heard about the shooting.

Parents and their children were in tears when they were reunited in the school gym, she said.

“It was probably one of the scariest days of my life,” said Sevier, 29. “A little over an hour was like an eternity to me, just not knowing.”

In Washington, there is a presumption that a 9-year-old cannot commit a crime, although children 8 to 12 can be charged if prosecutors can prove the offender understood their actions were wrong, said Pierce County deputy prosecutor Fred Wist, who supervises the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s juvenile unit.

That’s usually done with a capacity hearing, which must be held within 14 days of the child being charged. If they are found to be at capacity, the child can be arraigned. If not, the charges cannot stand.

School Board member Dave Boynton called the shooting a “rare, isolated incident.” He said the board will review safety procedures after seeing the results of the police investigation.

“Right now our concern is with the child and how the child’s doing,” Boynton said. “Obviously this is a tragedy.”

Many questions remained, including how a child could have obtained a loaded weapon and brought it into a grade school classroom.

In the latest scorecard by the Brady Campaign, a national gun control advocacy group, Washington scored no points in the child safety category because the state does not require trigger locks for guns and lacks laws to prevent child access to firearms.

“Washington state is a loosely regulated state when it comes to firearms,” said Gregory Roberts, executive director of Washington Cease Fire, a Brady Campaign affiliate.

Wednesday’s shooting in Bremerton was the first at a Washington school since February 2010, when 30-year-old Jed Waits of Ellensburg fatally shot Jennifer Paulson, a special-education teacher at Birney Elementary School in Tacoma. Waits later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The last shooting involving a student was in January 2007, when Douglas Chanthabouly fatally shot fellow student Samnang Kok in a hallway before the start of classes at Tacoma’s Foss High School.

Chanthabouly’s lawyers said he had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and thought Kok was a member of a street gang out to hurt him and his brother.

Chanthabouly was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to more than 23 years in prison.

The Seattle Times, the Associated Press and KIRO-TV contributed to this report.

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