CHICAGO -- The brand new Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School received its initiation into the violence that is plaguing Chicago public schools yesterday:
An 8-year-old boy shot an 8-year-old girl in their third-grade class, the first time a pupil has been shot in one of the city's elementary schools.
It was a stunning crime involving children who are barely old enough to cross the street by themselves. And when it was finished, it was clear that a watershed had been crossed in the steady encroachment of guns and deadly violence into childhood here.
One day, a boy boasts to his friends that he will bring a gun to school. Sure enough, the next day he packs a semiautomatic pistol in his book bag, pulls it out in reading class and shoots a girl in the back, according to police.
The boy has no history of disciplinary problems, principal Luis Perez said, but police said he appeared unfazed by his act.
"I've seen very calm, collected adults, but this kid put them all to shame," said Cmdr. Charles Roberts of the Grand Central Area detective division.
Because of his age, the boy was not taken into custody but was allowed to remain with his parents last night.
Officials at Children's Memorial Hospital said the girl, Michelle Rodriguez, was in serious but stable condition after doctors removed a bullet from her spine.
Doctors were optimistic about the girl's recovery, said Erin Shields, assistant director of public affairs at Children's Memorial.
But Ms. Shields would not comment as to whether the girl would require rehabilitative therapy or whether her spine had been so badly damaged to cause paralysis.
Police said Michelle had been shot with a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun that belonged to someone in the shooter's family, probably an older brother.
Grand Central Area Detective Charlie Rickher said police were told by some children at the Northwest Side school that the boy may even have brought a different gun to class on Monday.
Mr. Roberts said it was unclear whether any charges would be filed against the boy. Under Illinois law, he is too young to be tried as an adult, but police could request that he be charged as a juvenile delinquent, a spokesman for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office said.
If charged, a court would determine the length of time he would have to remain in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections.
It is also possible that if the boy's home life is deemed to be unfit or unsafe, he could be removed from his parents and placed in the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
DCFS spokesman Ed McManus said last night that he was unaware of any request that the agency investigate the boy's home situation.
Some youngsters at the school, 1841 N. Springfield Ave. said an older brother of the shooter, a fifth-grader, had been selling bullets at the school for 50 cents on Monday.
The shooting occurred shortly before 11 a.m. yesterday in a class of about 28 children. The teacher had just finished teaching reading to a group of children in the back of the classroom, according to Mr. Perez, who refused to name the teacher.
While her back was turned, children clustered at the front of the class, and suddenly the teacher heard "a muffled noise," Mr. Perez said. She turned and "saw the child on the floor," he said.
Perez said he originally understood that the gun might have gone off accidentally while in the boy's book bag.
But, Mr. Roberts said, children had told police that the boy held the gun up and announced he was going to fire it. However, police are not sure if the boy knew the gun was loaded, Mr. Roberts said.