Young suspect in Ohio school shooting denies charges

Butler County Sheriff Deputies stand on the scene at Madison Local Schools, Monday, Feb. 29, 2016, in Madison Township in Butler County, Ohio, after a school shooting. An Ohio sheriff says a 14-year-old suspect in the school shooting that wounded multiple classmates is in custody. (AP)

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.

The school district said classes will resume Wednesday, with extra staff on hand throughout the schools and particularly in the cafeteria where the shooting took place Monday. Madison Local Schools Superintendent Curtis Philpot said crisis counselors were available and that schools would be 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 about 1,500 students.

The boy is charged in Butler County with attempted murder, felonious assault, inducing panic and making terroristic threats. Sitting at the defense table with his ankles shackled, he was silent and kept his head down 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.”

Defense attorney Ed 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.

Perry and the boy’s supporters declined to comment afterward. One apparent relative told reporters “you have no idea” about what the family is going through, but wouldn’t say anything else or give a name.

The Associated Press doesn’t generally name juveniles charged with crimes.

Sheriff Richard Jones said authorities have interviewed the youth and 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.

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 is 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. He also said many young people and some staffers have likely been traumatized by the chaotic scene.

The Butler County prosecutor’s office indicated it will explore options for handling the case, but hasn’t made any decision. Authorities have said they don’t believe the youth had a criminal record, which would be a factor for a judge deciding whether to keep him in the juvenile system to focus on rehabilitation.

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 be armed, too.

“It could have been much worse,” Jones said, adding it that while it was the first school shooting in memory in his county, there have been many lockdowns in recent months after threats were received.

The students who were shot were 14 and 15 years old and were taken to a hospital where they were in stable condition, investigators said.