Father says son who took gun to school 'made a bad mistake'
The 9-year-old boy who took a gun to a Bremerton elementary school Wednesday and wounded a classmate was charged and appeared in court Thursday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Boy, 9, charged in school shooting
PORT ORCHARD — The pale 9-year-old walked into the Kitsap County Juvenile Court on Thursday, looking dazed in his orange jumpsuit. There was a television camera in one corner; reporters filled nearly half the seats.
Police say that on Wednesday, he took a loaded gun to a Bremerton elementary school, and that it went off in his backpack just before the final bell rang. The routine of third grade — school, homework, play — had changed in a split second.
Now a classmate, 8-year-old Amina Kocer-Bowman, lies in intensive care, with a .45-caliber bullet wound to her arm and abdomen. She'll likely be there several more weeks and have several more surgeries, her doctor said.
The boy's father, Jason Cochran, 40, sat next to him at the defense table and rubbed his back. The boy burst into tears. His mother, Jamie Chaffin, 34, was not there. Authorities say the boy got the gun from her home, and there's a chance she will face criminal charges.
The boy has had a tumultuous life, with troubled parents, adoption, a death and now a guardianship.
Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Anna Laurie spoke slowly. She was trying to determine if the boy could understand what was going on.
"Do you read at grade level?" she asked.
He looked at his lawyer, at his dad, at his uncle, who also was sitting at the defense table. Laurie rephrased the question.
"I have a little trouble reading," he said finally. His dad handed him a tissue.
The boy was charged Thursday with unlawful possession of a gun, bringing a dangerous weapon to school and third-degree assault. By evening, he was out on bail and home with his family.
The Seattle Times is not naming the boy because he is being charged as a juvenile.
"That weapon was not mine," his dad said in front of TV cameras after the hearing. He said the boy's mom had had visitation over the weekend.
Prosecutor Todd Dowell said police are investigating. Depending on the circumstances, the owner of the gun could be charged with reckless endangerment, he said.
If the boy is found guilty of the charges, he could be ordered to spend up to 30 days in juvenile detention and 12 months on the juvenile version of probation and to perform 150 hours of community service.
A capacity hearing will be held in two weeks to determine if the charges will ultimately proceed. Under state law, children between 8 and 12 years old can face charges if a court determines the child has the capacity to understand an act is wrong.
Gail Hammer, a law professor at Gonzaga University, 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.
Many states have some form of law that specifically provides 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.
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.
Adjudication of the boy's case is a long ways off. First, the judge had to determine Thursday if he could be safely released into the community. His parents would not get that responsibility.
When he was 2 ½, police found methamphetamine and syringes in his mother's belongings, court documents say. Later that same month, Chaffin was charged with forgery after trying to cash stolen checks. She was later convicted.
When he was 3 ½, Chaffin was charged with selling marijuana out of a Kitsap motel. By this point, she had four children, according to court records. Meanwhile, Jason Cochran was convicted of domestic violence for assaulting Chaffin. He later violated the protection order. He repeatedly failed to pay child support and was held in contempt.
Three or four years ago, they both relinquished their parental rights, his uncle Patrick Cochran and court records said. The boy and two siblings were adopted by their paternal grandmother.
Then, in 2010, the grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Within months, she was dead.
In January 2011, Patrick Cochran was appointed the three children's legal guardian. At the time, court records state, the children were all doing well in school.
The judge wanted to know Thursday if Patrick Cochran could be responsible for the boy. The boy, his siblings and their father all live with Patrick Cochran.
"Right now I'm not working," Patrick Cochran said. "He'd be with me all day, every day.
"He's a very good child. This whole situation is very out of character. I don't understand what happened.
"I apologize to the family of that girl. I really do."
Patrick Cochran, too, was tearful. "I just want him to come home," he said.
When Laurie set bail at $50,000, Jason Cochran shook his head.
"[My son] made a bad mistake," he said later. "I'm sorry."
Back home, the Cochrans began calling on friends for help with bail. By 5 p.m., they had raised the money and the boy had come home.
Seattle Times staff reporter Christine Clarridge and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org