CARSON CITY — Despite growing pressure from news media statewide, Sparks police and their legal adviser refused again on Wednesday to release the name of the 12-year-old boy who took a handgun to Sparks Middle School on Monday, killed teacher Michael Landsberry, wounded two other students and then killed himself.
Sparks City Attorney Chet Adams issued a statement that the Police Department would not release names of juveniles involved in the shooting because it has not completed its investigation. At this point, he said state law allows police to withhold the names of juveniles involved in crime.
But Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said the agencies legally cannot withhold the identity of a deceased person. He said releasing the boy’s identity has nothing to do with the continuing investigation.
“It’s not their judgment call,” Smith said. “The Police Department doesn’t get to decide what laws it supports and what it doesn’t. The boy is dead. You don’t get to withhold the identity of someone who is dead.”
The Washoe County coroner’s office also refused Wednesday to identify the boy on the grounds that the investigation is continuing. That was the same stance it held Tuesday.
Police departments routinely release names of people charged with crimes, killed in accidents or slain, like Landsberry, and suspected killers. Generally the release of names comes immediately after their next of kin are notified.
In a 2006 shooting at Pine Middle School in Reno, police released the name of 14-year-old shooter James Newman. He shot two fellow students, both whom lived. Newman complained he was a victim of domestic abuse by his father and ultimately was sentenced to 200 hours of community service.
The Reno Gazette-Journal in a rare front-page editorial Wednesday demanded the Sparks Police Department release the Sparks shooter’s name.
“State law is clear: The name is public information.”
By refusing to release the name, the Police Department is causing unnecessary community gossip and “elevating the shooter,” according to the newspaper.
The Gazette-Journal, in a separate news article, said it has confirmed the name of the shooter through interviews with children who witnessed the shootings, but decided not to publish the name until it was confirmed by official sources.
A Review-Journal reporter was told the name of the shooter by seven different students at the school on Monday and Tuesday, but the newspaper decided not to print it until it was officially confirmed. The newspaper also sent a letter to the Police Department complaining about its secrecy.
Sparks Deputy Chief Tom Miller said flatly at a Tuesday news conference that his department “never” would release the boy’s name out of respect for his grieving parents, who he said were cooperating in the investigation. Police also said the boy likely got the Ruger 9 mm semi-automatic handgun he used from the family home. Miller said there would be no more press conferences on the shooting.
Some officials at the news conference contended the boy himself was a victim..
Students said the boy was bullied at the school and also had family problems at home. Two said he was autistic. All who knew him said he was a nice boy who was always smiling. He is Hispanic, tall for his age. A documentary movie on bullying had been show students at the school 10 days before the shooting.
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