7-year-olds get past shooting

Two weeks ago, a 7-year-old Ries Elementary School student took a 9 mm handgun to a southwest valley school bus stop crowded with children.

He showed the weapon to another 7-year-old boy, who took it and fired at an unoccupied vehicle near Misty Haze Street and Wigwam Avenue, west of Decatur Boulevard.

No one was hurt, but the near miss with tragedy wasn't lost on angry and frightened parents who have clamored for the pair to face stiff consequences, such as expulsion or criminal charges.

But the extreme youth of the perpetrators and the circumstances of the shooting mean there are no legal penalties for them. Under Nevada law, children 7 years old and younger cannot be charged with a crime. Clark County School District regulations do allow for the expulsion of students who endanger the safety of others, but the parents of the perpetrators said that option was not exercised with their sons.

The mother of the boy who carried the gun to the bus stop and the father of the boy who fired it both said last week that while the two boys have been transferred to different schools, neither was expelled.

Randle Jones, the mother of the boy who first obtained the gun, wouldn't discuss details of the shooting or explain where her son got the weapon.

"He's 7 years old; there's nothing to be done," Jones said.

Alfred Simmons, the father of the boy who fired the weapon, said district officials moved his son to a new school partly because of the fallout from the shooting.

"They decided it might not be a good idea (to stay at Ries), because of other parents complaining about my son," Simmons said.

School officials would not confirm or deny the statements made by Jones or Simmons, citing federal privacy laws regarding student records.

Fritz Reese, director of the Clark County Department of Juvenile Justice Services, has been on the receiving end of several phone calls from concerned people who want to know why someone won't "lock those kids up."

He explained that Nevada law doesn't permit children 7 years of age and younger to be charged with a crime. It's common practice across the nation not to prosecute juveniles until they are at least 8 years of age, he said. Even so, most crimes committed by children between the ages of 8 and 10 do not usually result in an arrest or charge.

"Developmentally, a 7-year-old could be working at the level of a 3- or 4-year-old," Reese said. "Not in a physically adverse way, just in normal development."

Reese said if a crime -- such as a gun-related incident -- is serious enough, it's often the parents who will be charged.

"My first question was: 'How does a kid get access to a gun in the house?'" Reese said of the case involving the 7-year-old boys. "That's going to turn the focus to the caregiver."

According to sources with knowledge of the police investigation, the student who brought the gun to the bus stop found the weapon in his home.

The gun might belong to Jones' boyfriend, the sources said. Jones' son took the gun to the bus stop and hid it in shrubbery, the sources said.

Simmons' son found the weapon under the bushes and thought it was a toy. Simmons said his son isn't afraid of guns, which is probably why he pulled the trigger. Their family is from Louisiana and often hunt and fish, he said.

"That's the reason I don't have any (guns) in my house and don't keep them in my home," Simmons said. "I know he's anxious to use them when we're outdoors. He likes that stuff. So did I."

Simmons said he spoke with Jones, who apologized for her son's actions.

He said Jones told him her boyfriend was responsible for the weapon, and that she didn't know about the gun.

"Apparently, the parent (Jones' boyfriend) who was responsible for the kid getting the gun has moved," Simmons said.

According to the district attorney's office, no charges have been recommended against any adults in the case.

Edward Goldman, the school district's associate superintendent for education services, said he could not discuss specific students or investigations. However, he did speak to the federal law and the district procedures that apply when students are involved in gun-related incidents.

Federal law mandates a zero-tolerance policy for students who bring firearms onto school property. Students who do so must be expelled. If a student has a gun on a school bus or at school, the district would have no choice but to follow federal guidelines, Goldman said.

That law does not apply to students who are on city streets or at bus stops. However, Goldman said district regulations do come into play in those kinds of cases.

District regulations say possession of a firearm in a situation that could endanger other students is grounds for expulsion, he said. "The principal has no choice but to make a mandatory recommendation of expulsion."

But the key word, Goldman stressed, is recommendation.

After a school principal takes action, a member of Goldman's staff would meet with the student to decide if an expulsion recommendation should be upheld or modified.

Goldman said that decision hinges on circumstances: If a child doesn't know what he's doing, can you hold him accountable?

If Goldman's office upholds an expulsion recommendation, the Clark County School Board has the final vote.

If board members approve an expulsion, the student is barred from attending public school in Nevada for at least one year. If the recommendation for expulsion is denied, Goldman and his staff will review the case and decide how to proceed.

School Board Vice President Carolyn Edwards would not speak about the case, but said the difficulties of dealing with young children must be considered.

"How much do they understand about what they did?" Edwards asked. "What is their cognition level, as far as really understanding? Do they have a concept it could actually hurt somebody?"

The possibility of a 7-year-old facing expulsion is quite rare, district officials said. And because it's uncommon, there are limited options for schooling them in Nevada. All public schools in Nevada must honor an expulsion, Goldman said. Parents can't simply move their child to a different public school outside Clark County.

Private school or home-schooling are options, but private school is expensive and parents may not be qualified to teach their children at home. However, all elementary students must be enrolled in some form of schooling, Goldman said. Parents can't legally let their children go without education for a year.

"Another choice, theoretically, is to send him (an expelled student) to a jurisdiction outside of Nevada that would let him go to school," Goldman said. "But it's kind of a far-fetched option."

If a student involved in a serious disciplinary case is not expelled, Goldman said they probably would be transferred to another district school where they would be subject to random searches. And no matter what, "they can't go back" to the school where the incident occurred, Goldman said.

In the weeks since the bus stop shooting occurred, the outrage at Ries Elementary School has cooled, in part because parents now know that their children won't be in the same classrooms as the two involved children.

On Nov. 13, the day of the shooting, some parents waiting for their children at the bus stop were angry and fearful, asking why the boys weren't jailed or charged with a crime. But last week, that attitude had mellowed.

"It's not the fault of the kids," said Sara Cruz, grandmother of a Ries third-grader. "There's a gun in your house, and he's just a baby."

Jeremy Brown, father of a second-grader and a parent volunteer in the school cafeteria, said that although he owns guns, he taught his son never to touch them. As an additional precaution: "He can't get to them," Brown said.

Neither Cruz nor Brown wanted to see the boys involved in the shooting expelled. They did think the parents should be held accountable.

"It should start with the parents that let their kids end up with guns," Brown said.

Simmons said he understood the concern. His own son could have seriously injured himself because he thought the weapon was a toy.

"I don't want people to think my son is a bad kid, or would ever hurt nobody. Bottom line is, he's just a kid."

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.