PORT ORCHARD, Wash. — Crying and wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, a frightened 9-year-old boy accused of accidentally shooting a classmate sat before a judge in juvenile court Thursday as his father gently rubbed his back.
The scene – coming a day after police said the boy accidently shot a fellow third-grader – 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. Ultimately, the court will determine whether the case against the boy will continue 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 and placed under house arrest. The uncle, Patrick Cochran, is the boy's legal guardian and also sat by his nephew's 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 his office had enough information to charge the boy on Thursday. However, he will not be arraigned until the court determines if the boy has the capacity to understand 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 held 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.
Kocer-Bowman 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 the girl in the abdomen and arm, according to authorities.
Her father, John Bowman, thanked his daughter's teacher in a statement, saying "had she not administered first aid and stopped the bleeding from the gunshot wound, this event would have surely been tragic."
The boy was charged with unlawful possession of a gun, bringing a dangerous weapon to school and third-degree assault charges. 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.
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 deliver and forgery.
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.
In Olympia, the Seattle Democrat who chairs the state Senate Judiciary Committee said there is 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 classmate 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. He said he lives with the boy's father, and the boy's two sisters.
"I just want him back home," Patrick Cochran said.
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.