Chico Junior regroups, mother talks after 13-year-old girl pulls loaded gun in class
At a detention hearing held Dec. 17 at Butte County Juvenile Hall, the 13-year-old girl accused of taking over her class with a handgun at Chico Junior High School last week admitted her guilt before a Juvenile Court judge.
Wearing a green jail sweatshirt and blue pants, the girl wiped at tears with her sleeve as she acknowledged bringing a loaded gun to school Dec. 13, brandishing it in front of her first-period honors English class and keeping her favorite teacher and a fellow student hostage for about 10 minutes.
Her mother told the News & Review that the girl “wants everyone to know she is so sorry. She said, ‘I wouldn’t do anything to hurt anyone.'”
Principal John Mealley said he helped convince the girl, whom he described as bright and talented, to surrender the gun just minutes after she had threatened to harm herself and the people in the classroom. Most of the students fled, leaving teacher Rachel LeDuc, a male student and Mealley and a counselor, who had come to the room to try to defuse the situation. Students fleeing the classroom had alerted staff that there was a weapon on campus.
“Within one minute we had officers on the scene at the classroom,” said Lt. John Carrillo of the Chico Police Department. Faculty and staff quickly corralled 750 students safely in classrooms, where they remained for close to two hours while the campus was in Code Red “lockdown” status.
Police and school officials gave out few details, refusing to confirm whether the gun was loaded or where the student got it. But Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said the gun was loaded, and “she acquired it from a locked box” where her mother had kept it. The News & Review is not naming the girl, who Ramsey said at one point “placed the gun to her own head.”
She was taken to Butte County Juvenile Hall and has acknowledged the validity of charges of false imprisonment with the use of a firearm, bringing a handgun onto campus and assault with a deadly weapon.
In the days following the incident, reactions by students at Chico Junior have been mixed, from those who fear the girl will return, to others who feel badly about having teased her in the past.
A News & Review interview with the girl’s mother sheds more light on the incident, contradicts official accounts, and paints a picture of a bright but very confused young woman.
The girl’s mother, whom we have chosen not to name to protect the girl’s identity, said her daughter had been having trouble with some of the kids—and at least one teacher—at school.
"[My daughter] is a very, sort of, colorful character,” she said. “She’s not some drugged-out punk going out there with a death wish. She’s a little kid who doesn’t know how to deal with things.”
She portrayed her daughter as the second-oldest in a family of four children being raised by a single parent who moved to Chico two years ago to escape a relationship she called “mentally and emotionally abusive.” The girl’s relationship with her mother’s former boyfriend and the emotional baggage that ensued is at the root of her daughter’s actions, she said.
The girl had also apparently been having trouble with some of her classmates.
“There’s a group of kids at school. … They just kept harassing her and harassing her,” she said. “They’d come up and call her every name in the book, spread rumors about her—all these sexual references—she’s really not that kind of girl.”
The woman said her daughter told her that, when the kids pressured her to smoke a joint with them, they teased her for not wanting to partake. “She doesn’t do drugs,” the mother said. “They were like, ‘What’s the matter, you think you’re better than us? Are you going to turn us in now?'”
She also said her daughter was stressed by an incident with an unnamed male teacher who “yelled at her until he was blue in the face.”
“There was this friction with the students and this teacher that she couldn’t avoid,” the mother said.
Her daughter, she added, was sent over the edge by feelings she had for a boy she liked. Those feelings became confused, she said, by old memories of her mother’s boyfriend.
“Her relationship with this boy brought up all this stuff,” she said. “She started getting all caught up in her feelings for this boy—it consumed her.”
The mother confirmed that the boy, whom she does not blame in any way for the incident, was the same one her daughter held hostage in class. She said that, rather than Principal Mealley being the person who negotiated the gun away from the girl, it was actually the boy to whom she gave the weapon.
“She gave [the gun] to the boy, not to the principal,” she said.
The girl told her mother she gave the boy the gun after she threatened to kill herself, at which point the boy urged her not to, saying, “I would miss you too much.”
Mealley, who came to Chico Junior from Rosedale Elementary School this year to replace retiring Principal Pat McIntyre, confirmed the mother’s account.
“The girl gave it up to the student,” he said. “It was a team effort.”
Mealley said he felt good about the way the incident was handled and added that he had been operating on a combination of instinct and training when he decided to enter the classroom.
“It feels pretty strange to be cast into that situation without warning,” he said. “All of a sudden, reality is a different thing.”
Many parents learned of the threat only when they arrived at the end of the school day as usual to pick up their kids. By then a number of students had already contacted their parents and gone home early.
Meetings for parents were held at Chico Junior on both Friday and Monday. The media were told to leave the Friday meeting to provide a “safe environment” for the parents but were allowed to stay on Monday.
Mealley said the first day back in class went “quite smooth,” with students given plenty of time to talk with counselors or each other about their feelings. “We’re going to turn this into something positive,” he said. “We don’t want to just sweep this thing under the rug.”
Sgt. Scott Franssen of the Chico Police Department, who supervises the school resource officers, said at the Dec. 16 parents’ meeting that if someone—as rumored—heard ahead of time that the girl intended to bring a gun to school, that person could be cited.
Franssen said the possibility of a “copycat” has been “the Police Department’s main concern today, [but] we haven’t seen any indication that that’s going to occur.”
Mealley said administrators will continue to meet to review how well the lockdown process worked.
About an hour after the girl was disarmed, school officials went from class to class, explaining what had happened, and the school was removed from lockdown status at lunchtime.
“I think the Code Red was handled very well,” said one parent. “I would rather have there be overkill and be very safe.”
The girl’s mother has had no contact with the school since the incident occurred, she said.
She characterized her daughter as a “passionate, vivacious young woman” who had a tendency to crack wise. She loves writing poetry and singing, she said.
Though official sources confirm the girl held the gun to her head and threatened suicide, she doesn’t believe her daughter meant to kill herself.
"[My daughter] has a judgment, common-sense switch in her head that’s either on or off," she said. "I think she was seeing this whole thing as an expressive play. But this is not a movie set, this is not a stage. The credits aren’t going to roll, the curtain’s not coming down."