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On September 18th, a 13-year-old girl in Overland Park, Kansas was asked by a classmate to pick five people in the room that she would kill. Using a finger gun, she pointed at four other classmates then at her own head.
Since then, the girl was arrested and has been charged with a felony and could go to juvenile prison for up to a year. Some find this punishment to be extreme while others, including the justice system, refer to the current political climate surrounding gun law reform and persistence of mass shootings for validity.
Overland Park Chief of Police Frank Donchez said “I’ll take the heat all day long for arresting a 13-year-old. I’m not willing to take the heat for not preventing a school tragedy.”
Law enforcement had reason to believe, based on student reports, that the girl posed a direct threat to the school and news reports hint at previous behavioral issues, though nothing was confirmed.
“Victims in this case were genuinely concerned and fearful of this individual,” said Donchez, “when you combine that with the history that we’re aware of, and the students are aware of, when you combine all that and that these individuals were genuinely in fear, that’s why the arrest was made.”
On the other hand, some believe this to be an abuse of power and an overreaction to the situation being that the girl is 13 years old and there was no immediate physical danger in it being a finger gun. The child’s mother, Vanessa McCaron, is defending her daughter in the media, saying the ends don’t justify the means in this situation.
While speaking about the school resource officer who initially arrested her daughter, McCaron stated, “he had such a great opportunity to use his badge to change something in a child, but he chose not to…I think this is an insane abuse of power.”
The girl’s grandfather, Jon Cavanaugh, is also supportive of the argument that this issue could have been handled through the school administration and without police interference.
“I think that this is something that probably could have been handled in the principal’s office and got completely out of hand,” Cavanaugh said, “She was just mouthing off.”
He has also been clear to state that his granddaughter has no access to any firearms nor does he believed she had the intent to hurt anyone.
Another possible contributing factor to the occurrence that McCaron points out is that the girl was frequently and harshly bullied in school by the students who provoked the use of a finger gun.
One day after school McCaron’s daughter told her, ‘these kids are awful’ and that she was picked on “to the point where one day she was found in the corner of the school lunchroom sobbing.”
The fact that she chose herself to kill along with 4 other students could imply that the girl’s mental health was not addressed by the school. This raises the question if American school systems are truly taking care of their students, especially when it comes to bullying.
“She is having a really hard time talking about it,” McCaron said, “she feels like rules were made to protect people and wants to know why the rules — against bullying — failed to protect her.”
According to other police reports, two other 13-years old students in the same school district showed up to school with real guns in their backpacks a month before this incident occured. However, these students were charged with possession of a firearm, a misdemeanor which can result in up to one year in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500. Many are wondering about the discrepancy between the two incidents, considering having a real gun poses a more imminent danger to students. Possession is only considered a felony when the same crime is committed twice. Threatening is a felony.
“If someone makes a direct threat to another person to do harm to another person, that is considered criminal threat and that would be a felony,” Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said, “It seems a little bit of an anomaly that you would think that having the actual gun that would be a more serious charge, but in fact it’s the actual threat.” he continued “and it’s something that maybe we need to look at with the legislature and reconcile that.”
There is a possibility that the student can avoid the felony charges by entering a diversion program to address her behavior instead. They will return to court on December 17th. The girl is now living with her grandfather in California.
McCaron had a talk with the girl “about what she did and the implications about what she did. I told her that there are shootings every day and it is a scary time. She said that what she did is dumb. I’m just sorry she has to go through all this.”
Note: the name of the 13 year old girl has been omitted by the Overland Park County police department for privacy laws regarding juveniles.