HAMILTON, Ohio (AP) — A 14-year-old boy accused of shooting students in a school cafeteria denied charges including attempted murder on Tuesday, while the sheriff in the southwest Ohio county urged that he be prosecuted as an adult and that all schools step up security.
James Austin Hancock kept his head down and showed no emotion during a brief juvenile court hearing. His attorney, Ed Perry, said he hasn’t been willing to talk much so far.
“I think he’s overcome by what’s going on,” Perry told The Associated Press.
Perry said he wasn’t aware of Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones’ contention that Hancock’s case should be moved to adult court, but said “that’s something we will be concerned about.”
The school district said classes will resume Wednesday, with extra staff on buses, greeting students outside, and visible throughout the schools, particularly in the cafeteria where the shooting took place Monday.
Hancock is charged with attempted murder, felonious assault, inducing panic and making terroristic threats. He sat at the defense table with his ankles shackled as a prosecutor read the complaint against him, alleging he took a loaded handgun into school, fired “several shots, hitting two students,” causing a lockdown and bringing “a huge law enforcement presence.”
Perry entered a denial of the charges, the juvenile court equivalent of a not guilty plea, and a magistrate ordered that the suspect remain in juvenile detention pending a hearing April 5.
The boy’s family and supporters declined to talk with reporters thronged outside the courtroom, but Perry said later that they want the families of the students who were hurt and the school community in general to know that they are “very, very concerned” and saddened about the other students.
Jones said authorities believe they know a motive, but they won’t reveal it while their investigation is continuing. He said the youth apparently had a .380-caliber handgun obtained from a family member for “some time,” including all morning inside the school before he allegedly jumped up from a cafeteria table and opened fire. Authorities also say he was carrying extra ammunition.
Investigators told the Hamilton-Middletown Journal-News that Hancock had told other students he had a gun and showed it to one before shooting. The newspaper reported that Sgt. Rob Whitlock said there was no indication at this point that bullying was involved.
Two students were shot and two others hurt, possibly by shrapnel or while running away, authorities said. All were expected to recover.
In a recorded call, a 911 caller who sounded like a young person reporting the shooting immediately identified the suspect by name. Breathing heavily, the unidentified caller told a dispatcher: “He just pulled out his gun and started shooting.”
Jones said he was recommending to the prosecutor that he seek to have the case moved to adult court because of the serious nature of the charges.
“That may sound harsh, but you have to send a message to the kids,” Jones told The Associated Press, saying students need to realize that using guns isn’t like playing video games.
Madison Local Schools Superintendent Curtis Philpot said crisis counselors were available and that schools were open Tuesday evening for families to walk through and ask questions so students will feel “safe and comfortable” back in class. School was canceled Tuesday for some 1,500 students.
Students were eating in the cafeteria when the shooting happened around 11:30 a.m. Monday, Jones said. The youth threw down his gun as he ran from the school and was soon arrested near the school with the help of a Middletown police K-9 unit, he said.
A sheriff’s deputy stationed in the school had just been in the cafeteria, said Jones, who said the shooting underscores the need for every school to have such a police presence and to allow specially trained staff members to have access to firearms, too.
“It could have been much worse,” Jones said.
The wounded students were males, 14 and 15 years old, and were hospitalized in stable condition, investigators said.
Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report.
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