Armed teenager says he feared `gang'

Columbia student held at youth center

maryland

June 27, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,sun reporter

A freshman at Hammond High School in Columbia told police that he brought an unloaded handgun and ammunition to class this month to protect himself from "gang" members at the school, according to statements made yesterday during the 15-year-old youth's arraignment.

Howard County Master William V. Tucker denied the youth's request to be released from the Alfred D. Noyes Children's Center in Rockville and be permitted to live at home until his case is adjudicated. Tucker said such a release could subject the teenager to retaliation.

The threats "rose to the level where he felt that he had to arm himself to protect himself," Tucker said, adding that the conflict was described to him as a "gang situation" during the defendant's initial hearing.

On June 15, two students alerted a teacher that the teenager had claimed to have a weapon. The students overheard him talking about it; they didn't see the gun. The teacher relayed the information to Pfc. Jake Bell, a police officer assigned to the school.

Bell removed the youth from class and during a search found the weapon in his waistband and an ammunition clip with rounds in his pants pocket.

Whether the conflict arose from a gang confrontation likely will be debated during the youth's July adjudication, the equivalent of a trial in the juvenile court system. On the day of the student's arrest on gun possession charges, Pfc. Jennifer Reidy, a Howard County police spokeswoman, described the conflict as a "feud."

Howard County police rely on a strict definition of a gang -- one that requires the group to have a unifying sign, symbol or name.

After Tucker denied the youth's request to be released and ended the arraignment, the boy, whose name The Sun is withholding because of his age, muttered something under his breath.

The teenager's parents tried to assure Tucker that their son would be under 24-hour supervision if the master sent him home.

The parents had taken numerous steps to bring him home, including arranging a police inspection of their home to ensure it contained no ammunition or weapons and installing a special phone line required for the community detention program.

"There are plenty of people to help us ensure that he doesn't get into any type of trouble," said his father, a Washington firefighter, whose name The Sun also is withholding.

Assistant Public Defender Jenny Parks said that it was the Hammond freshman's first run-in with the juvenile justice system.

Prosecutor Cindy Johnson argued that the student, who stole the gun from his father's safe, should continue to be detained.

Johnson also said that the teenager had not undergone a psychological evaluation.

"The state's concern is that we don't know what went on in this young man's mind," she said. "And we would like more information."

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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