MATTOON, Ill. (WAND) - A 15-year-old teen who opened fire at Mattoon High School was sentenced to years in juvenile detention at a hearing Thursday.
Under the sentence, the teen will spend time in juvenile detention up to age 21, with the length of that time based on juvenile justice policy. If he fails to serve that sentence, he will spend 25 years in prison. He is free to go if he completes the juvenile sentence.
WAND-TV has not identified the shooter because he is a minor.
The sentence came at the end of an emotional hearing in a packed courtroom.
Deputy Mattoon Police Chief Sam Gaines testified first, detailing conversations with students after the shooting. One student who had been sharing a cafeteria table with the shooter told investigators the teen had showed her a gun in his waistband and said he wanted to shoot another student.
The student told police another student at the table got up told teacher Angela McQueen, who witnesses said approached the shooter. The shooter raised a gun and fired a shot as McQueen grabbed the shooter’s hand, witnesses told police. The shooter eventually fired eight shots from an automatic pistol, with most hitting the ceiling, police testified.
The first shot hit another student in the hand and chest. The teen had been using a cell phone at the time, police explained.
Police Chief Jason Taylor testified next, saying he first heard of the shooting from then-Chief Jeff Branson, who ran past his office yelling “Active Shooter! High School!”
“We went (to the school) with the thought we were going to have to shoot a kid,” said Taylor, explaining that officers initially did not know the shooter was already in custody.
Taylor said he arrived at the school and found school resource officer Kasey Alexander had taken the shooter into custody. He described walking through the high school.
“All I could hear was my breath and my feet hitting the floor,” Taylor said. “(Students) were huddled up in closets and corners of classrooms.”
Taylor said subsequent investigations found that high school staff had followed protocol. He said investigators found the teen had stolen the gun used in the shooting from a gun safe at home and said investigators seized 36 guns from the home.
The shooting has divided the community between two rival factions: one that blames bullying for the shooting and another that expresses anger at the shooter and his family.
“(The shooter’s parents) aren’t bad people,” Taylor said, rebuking the two factions. “Bullying doesn’t hold water for him deciding to commit mass murder in a school cafeteria. The kid’s got problems.”
School and police officials have also added new security measures and procedures, including a middle school resource officer, Taylor said.
“The militarization of our schools … that’s what we’ve done,” Taylor said.
The student who was shot testified that he suffered permanent nerve and capillary damage and missed about 20 days of school.
“The past year (included) pain, healing and unwanted attention,” he testified, describing attempts by reporters to reach member of his family, including one 3 a.m. call to his father while he was in the hospital.
The victim’s father testified last, describing media attention in the case and community speculation about bullying.
“We had to drive around for months looking at ‘stop bullying’ signs,” he said.
The victim’s father then addressed the shooter directly:
“This is not a gun issue. This is not a bullying issue. This is you,” he said. “Your parents are good and decent people … I hope you earn a second chance at life.”
In prior hearings, a psychologist testified in court that the teen suffers from Oppositional Defiance Disorder and is a danger to himself and others. At the time of the shooting, the teen was on juvenile probation for a domestic battery case.