A teen who took a loaded gun to school and opened fire in an Ohio high school cafeteria pleaded guilty on Friday to one count of inducing panic and four counts of attempted murder.
ABC News reports that 15-year-old James Austin Hancock, referred to as “Austin,” walked into Madison High School in Middletown, Ohio, on February 29, and opened fire in the cafeteria, shooting four students. None of the students suffered fatal injuries. The teen apparently snuck the firearm, a .380 caliber semiautomatic handgun, out of a relative’s house.
During the hearing on Friday at the Butler County Juvenile Court, defense attorney Charles Rittgers said that although there isn’t a valid reason for Hancock’s actions, he was only 14 at the time of the crime and that should be taken into account.
“There really isn’t a good motive for what he did. You’re dealing with the mind of a 14-year-old. And as most people know, especially at that age, they’re immature and they act sometimes impulsively.”
Rittgers also said that Hancock didn’t have a prior history of any violence or crimes, and his actions seemingly “came out the blue.” In turn, Butler County Juvenile Court Judge Ronald Craft ordered a psychological evaluation on the teen before sentencing. Sentencing is scheduled for June 6. Hancock is expected to remain behind bars until he’s at least 21.
One of this children injured by Hancock was a 13-year-old child hit in the legs by shrapnel. The student, Brant Murray, appeared at Hancock’s court hearing with his mother, Ginger Weaver, but he didn’t have much to say about the incident. Ginger Weaver, however, said that Austin should have known better, and even though Brant is physically okay, Austin was old enough to know right from wrong.
“At 15 years old, he knows better. Period. I wanted more…. This is my child.”
The other victims include Cameron Smith, 15; Cooper Caffery, 14; and Katherine Doucette, 14. After shooting the students, Hancock tossed the handgun and ran away. Police responded to an “active shooter call” at 11:15 a.m., and Hancock was apprehended shortly after. A parent of one the children at the school told authorities that he saw Hancock and he had a “smirk on his face.”
Although there’s still no clear motive for the shootings, one of the students at the school blamed bullying for the incident.
“Some kids just don’t know when to stop bullying. That’s when kids take it too far and children get shot.”
In March, Hancock was indicted as a juvenile under the Butler County serious youthful offender classification. During his Friday court hearing, Hancock appeared humbled and respectful. He answered the judge’s questions with “Yes sir” and “No sir,” indicating that he understand his charges and understood what he was pleading guilty to. Family members were emotional when the teen was led away in shackles. They called out,” We love you Austin.”
Hancock will do his sentence in a juvenile detention center, and if stays out of trouble, he’ll be released from jail on his 21st birthday and won’t face adult jail time. However, if he violates any laws, he could face numerous years in the adult jail system, depending on Craft’s sentencing stipulations in June. One attempted murder charge in the adult court system can have a sentence of up 11 years in prison. Additional years can be added because a firearm used in a school zone.
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