Howard sixth-grader dies after being shot in head

Friend, 15, faces juvenile gun charges

April 22, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

A bullet taken from a shooting range weeks ago has killed a 13-year-old boy and shattered the lives of two Howard County families.

Tanun Wichainaraphong, a sixth-grader at Burleigh Manor Middle School, died yesterday at Johns Hopkins Hospital after being shot in the head while playing video games at a friend's Ellicott City house Wednesday.

His 15-year-old friend faces juvenile firearms charges and is being held at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County until a detention hearing Tuesday. The Sun does not publish the names of juveniles accused of crimes.

"He is absolutely devastated," said the 15-year-old boy's attorney, Leonard H. Shapiro. "This was a kid that he cared a lot about."

Yesterday, Shapiro and Howard County police released new details about the shooting, which occurred in the Orchard Park Apartments while the children were home on spring break.

Wichainaraphong, who went by the name "Byrd," had gone with two friends, ages 11 and 14, to play video games in the 15-year-old's room about 2 p.m. The parents weren't there, police said.

During the visit, the 15-year-old gave the 11-year-old and 14-year-old whiskey but he and Wichainaraphong did not drink any, police said.

The 15-year-old pulled out a .22-caliber rifle that had been given to him by his uncle several years ago and showed it to the 11-year-old and 14-year-old. Police said he "began waving the rifle around" and it went off. Wichainaraphong, who was playing video games, was struck in the back of the head.

The bullet, police and Shapiro said, came from a shooting range the 15-year-old had visited with his father several weeks ago. He told police that he took a bullet from the range and put it in his rifle when he got home. He kept the rifle in his bedroom closet.

After the shooting, the 15-year-old called police. "He was in a panic waiting for the ambulance and police to arrive," Shapiro said.

Wichainaraphong underwent surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital on Wednesday. He died yesterday about 10: 50 a.m.

Police searched the home and found alcohol in the boy's closet. Shapiro said the children had taken whiskey from the kitchen but disputed the police account that his client had given the alcohol to the younger children.

Police inspected the rifle and found that the trigger guard had either been removed or broken. Shapiro said the boy told him the rifle was old and had never been fired before Wichainaraphong was shot.

The 15-year-old, accompanied by his parents and Shapiro, turned himself in to Howard County police yesterday about 2 p.m.

He was charged with two counts of reckless endangerment of the 11- and 14-year-old boys, discharging a firearm in a metropolitan area, possession of alcohol and furnishing alcohol to persons under age 21.

An autopsy will be performed today.

Shapiro said he disagreed with the decision to send his client to the Hickey School, a facility for juvenile delinquents. He said he tried to persuade juvenile authorities to release his client to his parents, noting that the boy had cooperated with the investigation, but that officials had deemed the 15-year-old a risk to society.

"At the most traumatic point in his life, when he needs to be with his parents, he has been locked up in the Hickey School," Shapiro said.

He said his client has a history of learning disabilities and depression, for which he is taking medication. He has been in special education programs since elementary school and is a student at Strawbridge School, a private Baltimore County school for emotionally disturbed children.

Shapiro described the boy's parents as "distraught" over the shooting. The boy is their youngest child, he said. "They feel horrible for the family of the victim," he said.

Teachers and friends described Wichainaraphong as a cheerful and eager child with a large circle of friends who enjoyed playing basketball and video games.

The oldest of three boys, he came with his family from Thailand about three years ago and lived in the Fairways development in Ellicott City. Although he knew little English when he arrived, he learned quickly and was a good pupil, teachers said.

Funeral arrangements are not complete, a family member said yesterday.

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