Text messages show Gladden warned of bringing gun to school

Fellow students did not alert authorities at Perry Hall High

March 15, 2013|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

The night before Robert Gladden Jr. took his father's gun to Perry Hall High School, he texted a friend about the plan, but begged him to keep it a secret.

"I am going to bring a shotgun and 21 shells, ill let your imagination do the rest," the 15-year-old Gladden said in a message sent around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 26. "And I trust you not to tell anyone about this so please don't."

The friend kept silent, according to newly released investigative documents, and Gladden kept his word. On the first day of the academic year, the sophomore smuggled a double-barreled Western Field shotgun into the school. He opened fire in the crowded cafeteria, critically wounding 17-year-old Daniel Borowy and shooting a second round into the drop ceiling before he was captured.

The text message was one of several communications in which Gladden presaged the attack. He famously posted on his Facebook page that the first day of school would be the last day of his life. But the files show that Gladden bragged about the gun before the shooting, showing it to at least one friend.

The documents — which include private texts, recorded police interviews and psychiatric reports— provide the fullest picture to date of the hours leading up to the shooting. They also detail for the first time that Gladden had told several people about his plans.

Gladden pleaded guilty last month and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

As Perry Hall continues to recover from Gladden's attack and schools across the nation look for ways to head off violence, administrators — and Borowy's family — say the new information underscores the need for students to speak up about threats.

"You need to take the time to take it to somebody's attention," said Milton Borowy, Daniel's father. Daniel, who will turn 18 this month, spent nearly two weeks in the hospital but has since returned to school. He has Down syndrome, and his mother said it's unclear whether he understands what happened, even as others struggle to forget the horror.

In court testimony school administrator Kathleen Watkins has said several students still take their lunch in the library, afraid to eat in the cafeteria. Others shudder when a bag of chips is popped at lunch. And teachers continue to meet weekly "just to hang on."

Watkins said one of the teen's teachers told her she is racking her brain for ways she might have flagged Gladden's behavior that day, asking "How could I not see something was wrong?"

The school system has responded to the shooting by increasing security measures and encouraging students to speak up about suspicious behavior. Such measures became even more urgent following the tragic killings of 26 people months later at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.

Dale Rauenzahn, Baltimore County's executive director of school safety and security, says that schools held a "day of awareness" last fall, during which students were encouraged to report students in order to get them help, not get in trouble.

"The biggest thing is that we are very committed to planning to make sure we are prepared if an event like this happens again," he said, citing close cooperation between school officials and emergency responders. "Perry Hall kind of showed that."

Before the shooting

"Bobby" Gladden passed the last day of his summer vacation in the same way he had passed much of the break: at his father's place, sleeping late and playing video games. Robert Gladden Sr. drove the boy to his mother's house.

They briefly stopped at Walmart to buy some last-minute school supplies, and Robert Gladden Sr. tried to encourage his son to apply himself in the coming school year. Gladden had already taken the shotgun from his father's basement, broken it down and tucked it away in the back seat.

His mother said in court that she did not notice anything out of the ordinary after Gladden arrived. When she first heard news reports the next day, she prayed her son was not injured.

But the investigative files show that Gladden spent much of the day issuing warnings about his plans.

That night, Gladden mentioned the gun to the friend: "I'm either gunna go strait to mrs blakes room or wait until lunch and just shoot everyone lol," Gladden texted.

The friend indicated in texts to other teens that he did not take Gladden seriously. (The Sun is not identifying the friend or other students named in the investigative files because they are juveniles.)

The next morning, Gladden left home with a black Bob Marley drawstring backpack. The shotgun was inside, along with a bottle of peanut-butter-and jelly-flavored vodka.

He went to his first three classes before heading to lunch at 10:25 a.m. At a cafeteria table, he told friends that he had a shotgun, but they told investigators they did not believe him. Gladden opened his bag and showed off the weapon to at least one student. That student, a friend, later saw Gladden putting shells in his pocket.

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