In what has become a chillingly familiar event across the country, school authorities in eastern Washington recently discovered a gun and a knife in the backpack of a student. But what stunned the small town of Colville was whom the backpack belonged to: a 10-year-old student at Fort Colville Elementary School.
School authorities said two fifth-grade boys planned to use the weapons to lure another student outside the school and kill her "because she was really annoying."
The boys last week confessed to plans to harm an additional six students at the school.
"This was a plan. And it was a plan to kill," Stevens County prosecuting attorney Timothy Rasmussen said Thursday.
Rasmussen said he would argue that the 10-year-old and his 11-year-old codefendant be held criminally responsible on charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and witness tampering — a charge filed after authorities said the boys promised to pay $80 to a student if he agreed not to tell anyone about the plot.
According to a court affidavit made public this week, the incident came to light shortly before 8 a.m. on Feb. 7, when a fourth-grader told a teacher he had seen an 11-year-old boy with a knife.
The teacher searched that boy's backpack and that of his 10-year-old friend and found the weapons in the friend's backpack. They included a knife with a 3¼-inch blade, a .45-caliber Remington 1911 semiautomatic handgun and an ammunition clip.
"My background is a high school counselor and psychologist, and quite frankly, in 30-plus years, I never heard of anything like this at this age level," said Colville School Supt. Mike Cashion.
Rasmussen was also nonplussed.
"To me, 10- and 11-year-olds do bad things," he said. "They throw rocks through windows. They shoot BB guns at people's cars. They hit people with sticks, they set a cat on fire. Those are things that children do. But this was a plot to kill."
When questioned separately shortly after the weapons were discovered, the boys admitted their plot, authorities said. "I was going to kill her with the knife and [the other boy] was supposed to use the gun to keep anyone from trying to stop me or mess up our plan," the older boy told detectives.
When shown a class list, the boy identified six other classmates who were targeted.
The older boy said he had been friends with the girl for several months "but that he hated her now." He said the girl "had recently become rude and would pick on him."
"The plan was nipped in the bud by other students who saw something and said something," Cashion said, adding that the school had been promoting a program that encourages students to report suspicious things.
Rasmussen said students younger than 8 were considered incapable of committing criminal acts in Washington state. For children between the ages of 8 and 12, the law presumes they are similarly incapable but calls for the court to hold a hearing to determine whether they had the capacity to commit a crime. That hearing is set for Feb. 20.
At a community meeting Wednesday night, Cashion said one parent expressed gratitude that because of the alertness of school staff, the gathering was a forum and not a funeral.
Another asked whether authorities would entertain the possibility of providing teachers with guns in the classroom. Cashion said he responded that the option was under consideration by the Legislature, but that most teachers weren't trained to use guns.
"I told them I can't imagine a teacher taking a gun out, leveling it at a fifth-grader and killing them," he said. "It's the antithesis of what we are."