SEATTLE – The family of a young Washington state girl severely injured when a gun in a classmate's backpack went off filed a $10 million claim against the Bremerton school district Wednesday, saying it failed to heed clues that the boy might be dangerous.
Third-grader Amina Kocer-Bowman, now 9, spent about six weeks in the hospital, required numerous surgeries and suffered critical, lifelong injuries when the bullet pierced her internal organs and lodged in her spine on Feb. 22. Police initially reported that the gun went off when her 9-year-old classmate slammed the backpack down on a desk, but the claim said the boy told investigators that he had reached into the backpack and had his hand on the gun when it went off.
The boy was sentenced to a year of probation and was required to apologize to Amina, and his mother — a felon who did not have custody of the boy but nevertheless spent time with him — has pleaded guilty to weapons charges in a deal with prosecutor. Police found several loaded, unsecured handguns in the home where she lived with her boyfriend, the Bowmans' lawyer, Jeffery Campiche, noted at a news conference.
According to the claim, the girl's teacher had been concerned about the boy's behavior since late last year, as he became more aggressive and bullied other pupils. He was unhappy with his teacher after he was moved into a lower, remedial reading class. And about one week before the shooting, he was suspended for fighting on the playground, and he began telling other students that he was going to bring a gun to school — information that apparently was never relayed to teachers or administrators.
The boy later told police that he brought the gun to protect himself against bullies.
The district declined to comment.
"You have to teach children to report danger," Campiche said, as he was flanked by Amina's parents. "When you have children who are acting out, you have to connect with those children and see just how deeply troubled they are."
Another boy in the class had recently attempted to bring knives, but his mother found them in his school bag and reported it to the teacher, the claim said. It was unclear if the teacher did anything with that information.
The family is also suing the boy's father, mother, uncle and the mother's boyfriend. Both of the boy's parents, Jason Cochran and Jamie Chaffin, had been deemed by a judge to be unfit to care for him, and Cochran's brother, Patrick, had legal custody. However, Cochran lived with his brother, and the boy was allowed to spend unsupervised time at Chaffin's home, where she and her boyfriend, Douglas Bauer, had weapons lying freely about, according police records.
Bauer has appealed the assault charge filed against him.
Campiche said that even if Bauer and the boy's family doesn't have much money, they might have homeowners policies that would cover some of the damages to Amina and her parents, who witnessed her injuries.
But a principal point of suing is to get the school district to make changes, he said.
Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle