Judge sees shooter as victim of parents

Lack of supervision lamented

boy, 15, fatally shot friend, 13

April 26, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | By Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A sobbing 15-year-old who shot his friend to death in Howard County was ordered held at a psychiatric facility yesterday as a juvenile master hearing the case expressed "absolute and utter astonishment" at his parents' lack of supervision.

The boy's lawyer argued that his client should be sent home after spending several days in a juvenile jail, but Howard County Juvenile Master Bernard A. Raum disagreed.

"I don't believe he is adequately supervised at home," Raum said. "We're here today because he wasn't adequately supervised."

At the hearing yesterday, the teen-ager wore a blue shirt, black pants and sneakers. His hair was uncombed. He wept openly and told Raum, "I'm sorry," before sobbing again.

His parents, who sat behind him, also cried when they heard the brief apology.

The 15-year-old's name is being withheld by The Sun because the newspaper does not publish the names of juveniles accused of crimes. He will spend the next two weeks at the Finan Center, a psychiatric hospital in Cumberland. He had been held since Friday at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County.

The boy and three others were playing at his parents' apartment in Ellicott City on April 19 when he took out a .22-caliber rifle and accidentally shot his 13-year-old friend, Tanun Wichainaraphong, a sixth-grader. Wichainaraphong, who was known as "Byrd," died two days later of a gunshot wound to the head.

The weapon was broken -- missing its trigger guard, a piece of metal that prevents firing of a weapon -- and the boy told police the gun went off by accident as he was waving it around.

The boy got the rifle from a relative and loaded it with a bullet after a trip to a local shooting range with his father, authorities said.

In ordering the youth to a psychiatric facility, Raum ignored a defense request to have the boy sent home and said he felt that the boy needed more supervision than his parents could give him.

"As I sit here and listen to the presentations," Raum said, "the only reaction I have is one of absolute and utter astonishment."

Height of imprudence

Raum said he owns guns and goes to the same shooting range. He said that the rifle used to kill Byrd should have been destroyed because it was missing its trigger guard.

"What I see here is the height of imprudence," he said.

He seemed incredulous that a relative would allow a weapon of any kind, let alone one with a faulty trigger guard, to fall in the hands of a child with a juvenile arrest record and emotional illness.

"It should have been melted down," he said. "No one in their right mind should have a firearm like this in that condition, not even an adult."

"This was not an accident," Raum said. "This was fate."

The boy's lawyer, Leonard H. Shapiro, defended the parents but conceded that Raum had a point. "It's hard to not be critical of parents who know that any child has a weapon," Shapiro said. "It's hard to quibble with that assessment."

Prosecutors referred to police questions about whether the parents could face charges. Police said the investigation is continuing and declined to elaborate.

Assistant State's Attorney Keith Cave told Raum that police would finish their reports by the end of the week and that other charges were pending in the death. The boy has been charged with recklessly endangering two friends, 11 and 14, who were not hurt in the shooting.

Shapiro said it is a "legal possibility" that the parents might be charged, but he added, "I think they have suffered enough."

He also said the parents did not think the gun was loaded.

During the half-hour hearing, prosecutors also revealed new details of the case.

On April 19, the boy and three others were playing at his apartment, Cave said. The youth took out a loaded .22-caliber rifle that was missing its trigger guard "to show his friends and be cool," Cave said.

Fatal swing of rifle

The boy had loaded the rifle with a bullet taken from a local shooting range he had visited with his father a few weeks earlier, Cave said.

The other boys were not paying attention to him, so the youth began to swing the rifle around at his waist in "a sweeping motion," Cave said.

The gun fired, and the bullet struck Byrd, who was playing a video game. After Byrd was hit, the shooter rushed to a telephone and called for help, Cave said.

Police arrived and took the boy to the Northern District Police Station in Ellicott City, Cave said. During that drive, the boy told the police officer that he "hated guns" and asked if the officer had ever shot anyone. He said he was sorry for shooting Byrd, Cave said, and said he had seen lots of "bad" movies, including "Saving Private Ryan," a 1998 film about World War II.

He later told police that he kept the gun loaded "to protect his family," Cave said.

The boy also told police that the rifle was given to him when he was 9 or 10 years old by an uncle, but that his parents took it away from him.

As the family began packing to move recently, the boy found the gun and put it into his closet, Cave said.

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