When authorities in Newport News, Virginia, announced on January 6 that a 6-year-old boy brought a gun to school and shot his teacher, sending him to the hospital, the nation was shocked. The mayor of the city said it was impossible to deal with what happened. The police chief said that the case is “unprecedented.”
But in one area of Michigan, residents were reminded of two other first children.
One of them was Kayla Rolland, a blue-eyed, fiery girl who loved to dress up and sing with her brothers and entertain her family with funny things. “If I could describe my sister by a color, she was yellow,” said her older sister, Elizabeth Krasinski. “He was full of sunshine.”
Another was a 6-year-old boy who brought a gun to their elementary school nearly 23 years ago and shot and killed Kayla.
His murder caused great grief in the town of Mount Morris and attracted national attention for several months: Newspapers said that the student who fired the gun was a young “killer”, whose childhood was characterized by poverty and long-term neglect. Others talked about race: The boy was Black while Kayla was White. Prosecutors received calls from across the country calling for the boy to be charged. Some wanted the death penalty.
But when Arthur Busch, then the Genesee County district attorney, found himself sitting across from the boy a few weeks after the February 29, 2000 murder, he felt sorry for him. The boy, missing two of his front teeth, was painting when Busch entered the room. The kid said he liked the Busch tie and that he was excited that Easter was coming up so he could meet the Easter Bunny. “I just saw my own children in him,” Busch said. “I felt that it is my responsibility as a government official to try to protect this child. We have to work hard to make sure they don’t do this again. ”
CNN is not naming the boy – now a 29-year-old father – because he was a minor at the time and has not been charged in connection with Kayla’s murder. Several officials, including her uncle, were later charged and she was removed from her parents’ custody and placed in foster care, the prosecutor said. After that, Busch lost his way.
The case appears to be very similar to the Virginia shooting, according to data from the K-12 School Shooting Database, which tracks school shootings in America back to 1970. There were two other cases, according to the data, in which the suspect was a 6-year-old: in 2011, in Texas and 2021, in Mississippi. In both cases, the gun went off accidentally.
The aftermath of the Michigan school shooting can help shed light on what Virginia will investigate, what the student’s next steps will be and how the response will look when the shooter is the first.
About a quarter of all Mount Morris Township residents are poor today. This is how Krasinski remembers growing up. Either way, that’s how the boy who shot his sister grew up again.
At the time of the shooting, the boy lived in what Busch described as a flophouse. The boy’s mother was evicted from her home after failing to pay rent and sent her two sons to live with their uncle while he worked two jobs to make ends meet, according to an article in the Battle Creek Enquirer.
The boy’s father was in prison at the time of the shooting after violating his parole on a robbery charge, according to a Lansing State Journal story.
At their uncle’s house, the boy and his older brother often “raised themselves,” said Busch, who led the state’s investigation and spoke with school officials, state officials and child welfare agency workers throughout the process. In another room of the uncle’s house, the boy found a shoebox containing chocolates, coins and a stolen .32-caliber semiautomatic pistol that he would later use to shoot Kayla, according to the prosecutor and news reports at the time.
“He was treating it like a toy, because I don’t think he had many toys,” Busch said. The boy put the gun in his bag and took it to Buell Elementary School.
Courts terminated the boy’s parental rights after the shooting and eventually placed him in foster care, Busch said. When Busch visited her in her apartment a few weeks later, the prosecutor asked her what she liked most about it. “He read to me,” the child replied.
“His eyes lit up when he asked for someone to read to him,” Busch recalled. “It was clear that there was a culture of neglect.”
CNN tried to reach the 29-year-old man and his family but he did not respond. In a statement to MLive-The Flint Journal in 2020, the boy’s mother said, “We are all doing well as a family.”
Officials have not released details about the 6-year-old in the Virginia case, or his family history. At a press conference last Monday, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said that after the boy shot his 25-year-old teacher, he was restrained by a school employee and became “a little combative” when police arrived.
Drew said the gun was legally purchased by the child’s mother. She found the weapon at her home, put it in her purse and took it to school where her mother dropped her off that morning, Drew said. Police have not released details about where the child got the weapon or how it was stored.
Authorities obtained a temporary detention order and took the child to a hospital where he was treated, the police chief said. In an email to CNN, the police department said the child is in the custody of the Newport News Department of Human Services, which is “handling any and all future placements” of the boy, but did not provide further details. The city told CNN that no information about the child will be released.
The city’s Department of Child Protective Services is investigating whether there were any past incidents with the family, Drew said earlier this month.
In the Michigan case, prosecutors did not charge the child because he was not “under the age of understanding,” Busch said.
“He was a child who believed in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. He has no capacity to commit a crime or commit a crime,” Busch said. ”
Likewise, it’s “highly unlikely” a child in Virginia will face any charges, said Julie E. McConnell, director of the Children’s Defense Clinic and a law professor at the University of Richmond.
“You have to be qualified to prosecute in Virginia,” he said. “We want the defendant to understand their rights … to understand how to help their attorney prepare for the case, to understand everyone’s role in the courtroom.”
Oftentimes, kids that age don’t even understand the lasting damage that gunshots can cause, he added. “It’s possible that a 6-year-old wouldn’t understand that it’s not a toy,” McConnell said.
While the investigation is still early, a police chief told “CNN This Morning” on Tuesday that it is possible that the child’s mother will be charged.
To make those decisions, investigators will undoubtedly look into the circumstances of the family before the shooting, what the parents may have done in the way the gun was found, any efforts they made to protect it and any connection the child may have had to the weapon. McConnell said. The child’s parents could face trouble if found guilty of violating a Virginia law that prohibits leaving a loaded, unprotected gun in a manner that could endanger the lives of children, he said. He could also be charged with negligence if authorities believe he put the boy in a dangerous situation for himself or others, McConnell said. But proving that in court, he said, comes with “a very high standard.”
After a shooting in Michigan, a 19-year-old man accused of firing a gun at a first-grader found himself serving 2 1/2 years in prison after pleading not guilty to first-degree murder, according to The Herald-Palladium.
Two other men, including the boy’s uncle, were charged in the case and charged with possession of the stolen gun that killed Kayla, according to a later statement.
The boy’s father publicly apologized to Kayla’s family for what his son did, saying that although the child “should know right from wrong … I don’t think he knew what he was doing.”
After the shooting, the woman pleaded guilty to child endangerment, but two other charges against her were dismissed, the Detroit Free Press reported. And he defended his actions to reporters, saying he sent the boys to his brother and tried to protect them, according to the Enquirer video. In the same interview, he said the shooting weighed heavily on him and that he prays for Kayla and her family every day.
A 6-year-old boy shot a teacher in the classroom. Hear it from an 8-year-old student down the hall
Hours after the Newport News shooting, officials asked the community to view the shooting as a reminder of the importance of protecting children.
“We need the support of the community,” said school superintendent George Parker, “to make sure that guns are not available to young people and I’m like a broken record today, because I continue to say: That we need to keep guns.” in the hands of our youth.”
That’s the same lesson Krasinski said he hopes his sister’s murder would have taught his community. When their mother began advocating for gun law reform after the shooting, Krasinski said that for her it wasn’t about guns; it was about the conditions that the boy could have had that might have made him act the way he did. “There were many problems,” he said.
More than twenty years later, he has no grudge against her. “He was a baby,” she said.
And when he thinks about his sister now, he remembers their good times: Her singing her favorite songs, including The Kelly Family’s song, “Fell in Love with an Alien,” her sister’s mischievous behavior and her sense of humor. he moved his eyebrows to make his brothers laugh.
“We made life interesting, that was our job,” he said. “Our work in life was just to be children.”
Krasinski, who is now a mother of four, said there are often moments when she feels Kayla’s presence, either through her children’s questions about her or through what she unknowingly inherited from their aunt.
“My little sister … she’s like my sister,” Krasinski said. He said, “It feels like I’m with my best friend.”