The parents of a 9-year-old girl accidentally shot in a Bremerton classroom in February have filed a $10 million claim against the Bremerton School District as well as a lawsuit against the family of the boy who brought the gun to school, including the boy’s uncle, father, mother and the mother’s boyfriend.
The claim filed by Amina Kocer-Bowman’s family alleges that the school knew the boy had been acting out, should have known he’d talked about bringing a gun to school and should have intervened. The lawsuit claims the boy’s parents and uncle were negligent in allowing him access to the firearm.
“Children model and mimic the behavior of their parents. That’s why unfit parents are not allowed to raise children in this state but that’s not what happened here,” said the Bowman’s attorney, Jeff Campiche. “Despite a judicial finding that the (boy’s) parents were unfit, they were allowed to raise their children, including the boy with the gun. They were present constantly and they were the example that the child followed. We have brought suit against them because they entrusted firearms to a child and also let this child believe that the .45 caliber handgun is approporiate protection against bullying at the school.”
The claim against the school district is a precursor to a lawsuit, which Campiche said will be filed in 60 days.
Amina was severely wounded when the .45-caliber handgun in the backpack of the 9-year-old classmate accidentally discharged on Feb. 22 at Armin Jahr Elementary School. Amina underwent five surgeries at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center before her release on April 3.
The boy, who is not being named because he was prosecuted as a juvenile, pleaded guilty in March to reckless endangerment and bringing a weapon to school. He was sentenced to probation and counseling and ordered to write a letter of apology to Amina and her family.
He told police he brought the gun to school to protect himself from bullies. He obtained the handgun while he was visiting his mother Jamie Lee Chaffin, 34, and her boyfriend Douglas L. Bauer at their Allyn-area home where the boy had access to several loaded, unlocked weapons. The boy was living with his uncle, who is his legal guardian, and his father at the time of the shooting.
In a plea deal, Chaffin pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm. In exchange, prosecutors dropped a third-degree felony assault charge. She has not been sentenced.
Bauer, 50, was also charged with assault and unlawful weapons possession and is awaiting trial.
Kitsap County prosecutors said that Chaffin and Bauer were negligent for leaving the loaded gun where the boy could find it.
At a news conference announcing the filing of the lawsuit and claim on Wednesday, Amina’s parents said the last few months have been difficult. They still don’t know what long-term consequences her injuries could bring, John and Teri Bowman said.
“She has her good days and her bad days,” her mother said tearfully.
For example, the Fourth of July was “very hard” for them, she said. Amina was frightened of the loud noises from fireworks and stayed inside the house, her parents said. She’s shyer than she was before and more afraid of strangers. Even the sound of a balloon popping is scary for the girl, her mother said.
According to the claim against the school district, the teacher in the fourth-grade classroom where the shooting occurred knew that the boy who brought the gun to school had been acting out and fighting. It also says the boy had told several other children he planned to bring a gun to school.
“It wasn’t a surprise he had a handgun at school,” Campiche said. “He had announced his intentions to bring a gun to the school to a number of people. Unfortunately the people who are responsible for the safety of the school did not have a system in place that picked that up.”
Campiche said the Bremerton School District’s policies on controlling and stopping bullying are inadequate and fall short of state and national standards. The standards direct a school to gather information about the threat, assess the level of danger and to act, he said.
“Why was there no in-depth communication with the children that are acting out? Why is there no communication to see what their intentions are?”
Campiche said the Bowmans had done everything in their power to protect their daughter, but they had trusted the school to do its part.
“It’s a huge responsibility,” Campiche said. “We depend on our schools to provide a safe place for them.”
In the fall, Campiche said, Amina will be going to a small, Catholic school near the family’s home in Bremerton that the family believes is safer.