Col. Zadok Magruder High School Credit: Em Espey

Note: This story was updated at 2:45 p.m. to reflect the various statements given in court at Thursday’s hearing.

On Thursday, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge sentenced 18-year-old Steven Alston Jr. to serve 18 years in prison for a shooting at Col. Zadok Magruder High School earlier this year that severely injured a then-15-year-old student. Alston pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder Nov. 7.

The judge passed a sentence of 40 years in prison, suspending all but 18 years and with 5 years of probation upon Alston’s release.

The judge expressed the severity of Alston’s actions during his sentencing, and said that he faced the possibility of life imprisonment.

However, given factors such as Alston’s age, the fact that he struggled mentally and academically, believed he was in danger and had no options at the time, and had expressed regret over his actions, the judge decided to abide by a 15 to 25 year cap on his sentence.

While Alston was tried as an adult, prosecutors also put forth the recommendation that he be placed in a youth offender program at the Patuxent Institution, which the judge included in his sentencing.


The case arises out of an incident that occurred on Magruder’s campus in January. Alston, who was 17 at the time, brought a self-assembled “ghost gun” into a school bathroom and shot his classmate DeAndre Thomas. The attack left Thomas with life-threatening injuries that required multiple surgeries to survive.

In a tearful statement to the judge on Thursday, the victim’s mother Karen Thomas said watching her son go through the aftermath of the shooting was “emotional torture.”

“I don’t think any parent should be put in a position to see their child fight for his life,” she said.


Thomas said it wasn’t just her son who was affected by the incident, but her entire family.

According to court documents, Alston had reportedly armed himself with the gun because he was afraid of being jumped by Thomas and his friends. Alston’s attorney David Felsen had previously argued that Alston had been the victim of bullying.

“It has infuriated me to see people try to paint a picture of my son as a big bully. I have no remorse [for Alston],” Karen Thomas said. “He should be held accountable.”


Alston did not speak directly to the court, instead having his attorney read a statement out loud on his behalf.

“I was frightened and didn’t know what to do. […] I made bad decisions, and I could have found another way to deal with my problems and fears,” Alston’s statement read.

Alston also apologized through his statement to DeAndre Thomas and his family, as well as to his own mother.


“Being locked up showed me I need to think before I do,” his statement read.

Alston’s mother also had his attorney read a statement on her behalf, which expressed love and support for her son. She also expressed sympathy for the Thomas family and stated she understood the grief and significance Alston’s actions had caused. Through her statement, she asked the court show her son remorse.

Two of Alston’s teachers at Magruder High also gave statements testifying for Alston.


One of the teachers, Stephanie Williams, described Alston as a “polite and respectful” student. She said despite his poor academic performance, he did not act out in class like many other students.

“I still believe there is good in him,” she said, adding that she believed he felt terrorized the day of the shooting and thought he was in danger.

Christopher Gamble, another Magruder teacher, said he knew Alston as a student who attended classes regularly. He called Alston a quiet student, not known to engage in conflict.


“Steven’s actions that day did not correlate with the image I had of him. […] I believe the decision was based on a manifestation of fear, not because of aggressive intent,” Gamble said in his statement.

Ongoing community unrest

The shooting sent shock waves through the community. Parents and students voiced deep frustration about the way the incident was handled, particularly with respect to the school system’s emergency communication management. In the months since the attack, parent leaders have continued to call for better school security, mental health resources, staff training and information-sharing.


In late November, Montgomery County Public Schools issued an apology to the Magruder community during a meeting held at the high school, admitting that the day of the shooting involved miscommunication from MCPS and unnecessary delays to parent/student reunification.

Two weeks after Alston pleaded guilty, the Thomas family filed a civil lawsuit against Montgomery County and its Board of Education alleging negligence in the shooting.

Alexander Bush from the law firm of Rowe, Weinstein & Sohn PLLC is representing the family in the civil suit. He told Bethesda Beat he’s waiting for the defendants to file motions to dismiss the case, a standard legal procedure.


Both parties have 30 days to respond to the civil complaint Bush filed on the family’s behalf Dec. 5, and Bush said counsel for one of the parties has already requested a 40-day filing extension from the court.