The mother of a 16-year-old boy who was shot and seriously injured in January at Col. Zadok Magruder High School says he was on life support for three weeks following the incident, and will soon have his 10th surgery.
Authorities allege a 17-year-old boy shot the victim, who was then 15, just before 1 p.m. Jan. 21 in a restroom at the Derwood school. Prosecutors have said the suspect purchased and assembled a privately made firearm, or ghost gun, online, then brought the loaded gun to school knowing that there would be a confrontation.
The school was put on lockdown while police searched for the shooter. Police have said the suspect was found in another classroom and arrested around 3 p.m. that day.
The 17-year-old has been charged as an adult with attempted murder, assault and multiple weapons offenses. Police have identified the defendant; Bethesda Beat generally does not name juveniles who have been charged with crimes.
On Monday, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge heard arguments on whether to move the case from adult to juvenile court. Under state law, minors who are charged with felonies such as murder, rape, carjacking and weapons violations are automatically charged as adults. However, courts have discretion to transfer these cases to juvenile court.
About 80% of the time juveniles are charged as adults in Maryland, their cases are transferred to juvenile court or dismissed, according to data from the state’s Juvenile Justice Reform Council. A January report from the council found that a juvenile charged in adult court spends an average of 155 days waiting in adult jail before a transfer is granted.
During Monday’s hearing, Karen Thomas, the mother of the victim, said the January attack has “changed our entire life and the way our to day-to-day lives work.”
Thomas described her son as a “happy, upbeat, social, caring” young man before he was shot in the abdomen. The shooting caused extensive injuries, including kidney and liver failure, she said. He was put on life support for three weeks following the shooting, had multiple blood transfusions and had nine surgeries.
Thomas also said her son developed sepsis, blood clots and edema—extreme swelling caused by excess body fluid in tissue.
“I watched his body swell up to become almost unrecognizable,” Thomas said in court.
Thomas’ son spent 52 days in the hospital and required the care of a home nurse when he was discharged, she said. Today he is able to walk with a limp but cannot stand for long periods, she said.
“He physically will never be the same again,” she said, noting that a bullet is still lodged in his body, behind his left hip.
Thomas said her son still awaits an ostomy, or intestinal-related, surgery.
“I’ve had to watch my son suffer through excruciating pain,” she said.
Thomas said the past four months have been extremely difficult on her family, and have pulled her away from her two daughters, ages 10 and 14. She said she isn’t sure what the future holds for her son.
“What he went through is very traumatic, and it will for sure leave a lasting impact on our family,” she said.
“He has to heal and get back to normal instead of enjoying a normal teenage experience.”
Attorneys argue over placement of case
Prosecutors on Monday made the case that the 17-year-old’s case should remain in adult court. Assistant State’s Attorney Donna Fenton said it’s clear that the suspect’s actions were pre-planned, saying he had purchased the ghost gun online and assembled it himself.
“He did not react. He acted. This was planned and deliberate,” she said.
Fenton said this is one of the most serious cases of late, because it comes during a period when violent crime among youth is on the rise in the county, and ghost guns have been involved in multiple incidents.
At issue on Monday was a doctor’s evaluation that, according to a defense attorney, indicates that the 17-year-old has had a problem with “coping strategies” in response to previous fights he has gotten into, and also has had a history of cannabis use.
Prosecutors say the evaluation didn’t give any specific recommendations. Circuit Court Judge David Boynton questioned defense attorney David Felsen about the report, asking him what specific problems the 17-year-old was having prior to the shooting, and what services he needs.
“You need to have an identifiable problem, and I haven’t seen it,” Boynton said.
“The case in and of itself suggests coping problems,” Felsen said.
Boynton said he plans to issue a ruling at 9:30 a.m. Thursday on whether to grant the transfer.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org