Perry Hall High student charged as adult in cafeteria shooting

Portrait of alleged shooter emerges as withdrawn, bullied and with troubled home life

August 29, 2012|By Jean Marbella and Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

Charged as an adult in the Perry Hall High School shooting, 15-year-old Robert Wayne Gladden Jr., was held without bond Tuesday as a portrait of a withdrawn and occasionally bullied student with a troubled home life emerged through interviews with classmates and court documents.

The suspect was charged with attempted murder and assault in the cafeteria shooting on Monday, the first day of classes. He underwent a mental health evaluation Tuesday, and had been held at the Baltimore County Detention Center. In a brief statement, county prosecutors said he would not have a bail hearing Wednesday because he was at a medical facility.

Gladden's lawyer, George Psoras Jr., cautioned against a rush to judgment, saying the bullying his client endured pushed him to a breaking point.

Gladden's stepfather, with whom he lived along with his mother and older sister, was also arrested Monday after police searched their Kingsville home and found marijuana and firearms in the home. The stepfather, Andrew Eric Piper, 43, was previously convicted of grand theft, prohibiting him from possessing firearms, police said.

The shotgun allegedly used in Monday's shooting, though, came from Gladden's father's home in Middle River, where the teenager sometimes stayed, police said.

Gladden is "devastated" and "out of it," unable to comprehend the charges against him, Psoras said. Police interviewed him for hours without a lawyer on Monday and took a lengthy statement, Psoras said, claiming that authorities "usurped" the young man's will.

"Everybody needs to keep an open mind; this process is just beginning," Psoras said, asking outsiders to "give the Gladdens peace and some space as they deal with this family tragedy."

According to charging documents, Gladden entered the school cafeteria with a shotgun and began shooting. He fired the first shot at a lunch table and struck Daniel Borowy, 17, in the back, police said. The victim remained in critical condition Wednesday afternoon at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he had been airlifted. Police said it didn't appear Gladden targeted Borowy.

A deeper picture of the suspect emerged Tuesday as students returned to school under heavier security and after many attended a morning prayer vigil for Borowy. Friends and classmates described Gladden as increasingly alienated and downcast, someone whose long black hair and dark wardrobe made him "one of the weird kids" who got picked on at school, his friend Collin Asbury, 17, said Tuesday.

"He was just so mentally and psychologically injured," Asbury said of Gladden, adding that doesn't excuse violence. "When people act so harshly to someone for such a long period of time, it has an impact."

Other students say Gladden seemed to turn inward, not talking much and tuning others out by putting his head down on his desk during classes. That was how Imaris Reyes remembers him spending some of their world history class Monday morning.

About the only thing he said during class was in response to the teacher's question about how he'd like to be addressed, Reyes said. Bob or Rob, she recalled Gladden saying, adding that he didn't care.

Still, the teacher worked to engage him, trying to recruit him as one of the students who gathered their classmates' work to submit to her. "We had a helper from each table," Reyes said. "[The teacher] told him to collect the papers."

But Gladden didn't respond. Instead, she said, "he put his hair over his head and stared at the desk."

Another student, Trent McCallum, a junior, said he noticed a change in Gladden last school year. He started wearing baggy black clothes and dying his hair black, and some students started to mock him, McCallum said.

"Something big changed in his life," McCallum said. "He was acting sad and he was lonely, but I think he had good in him."

At 6:27 a.m. Monday, on a Facebook page in which Gladden lists his employer as "The Manson Family" and calls the Columbine shooters "inspirational people," he posted: "First day of school, last day of my life."

Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson said Gladden took the school bus, carrying with him a Western Field double-barrel shotgun, 21 rounds of 16-gauge, 7.5 shot and a bottle of vodka. He went to his first- and second-period classes, then the cafeteria for lunch, Johnson said, first placing a black backpack with the shotgun, disassembled, in a nearby bathroom.

Students said some kids were throwing food at Gladden in the cafeteria — and not for the first time, said Matt Pedata, 19, a senior who had an art class with him last year.

"He was picked on all the time," Pedata said. "Bullies threw food on him all the time, pushed him all around."

Police said that although the students who threw things at Gladden on Monday had already left the cafeteria, he went to the bathroom to retrieve and assemble the gun.

Court documents reveal that Gladden's home life had its problems as well.

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