RICHMOND, Ind. — Mary York didn’t pull the trigger once Dec. 13 at Dennis Intermediate School. Her 14-year-old son did.
Yet, York, 43, sat inside the Wayne County Superior Court 1 courtroom on Friday afternoon. During an 18-minute initial hearing, Judge Charles Todd Jr. read seven charges, including six felonies, York faces as a result of her son’s actions that day. She also heard the possible penalties, her constitutional rights and the case’s next steps.
York’s situation is relatively rare in the United States, because parents or guardians of juveniles who discharge firearms at schools do not often face charges. In most cases, however, the juveniles obtain their weapons from their home, as did York’s son, whom The Pal-Item does not identify because of his age.
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Prosecutor Mike Shipman filed the seven charges against York on Oct. 11, nearly 10 months after York’s son killed himself inside Dennis after shooting his way into the school through a glass exterior door. The charges, which include a Level 5 felony, five Level 6 felonies and a misdemeanor, are:
- Dangerous control of a child for recklessly allowing her son to possess a handgun and rifle while aware there was a substantial risk of him committing a felony — murder or battery — and failing to make a reasonable effort to prevent the use of the firearms in the commission of a felony;
- Neglect of a dependent by placing the dependent in a situation that endangers the dependent for failing to remove firearms from their South West 16th Street residence after her son threatened to kill students at Dennis and discharged a firearm inside her home;
- Neglect of a dependent by depriving the dependent of necessary support for failing to remove a .45-caliber handgun from the home after her son threatened to kill students at Dennis;
- Neglect of a dependent by depriving the dependent of necessary support for failing to provide counseling for her son because of his mental-health issues;
- Neglect of a dependent by depriving dependent of necessary support for failing to reasonably supervise her son;
- Neglect of a dependent by placing the dependent in a situation that endangers the dependent for failing to ensure her son was taking prescribed medications; and
- Criminal recklessness for recklessly or knowingly performing an act that created a substantial risk of bodily injury to Dennis students and staff because she allowed firearms in her residence after learning her son had threatened to kill students at Dennis and had discharged a handgun in her home.
According to the affidavit of probable cause used to charge York, her son was evaluated and treated during May 2018 for mental-health issues. At that time, he related thoughts of suicide and of going to Dennis to kill students he said had bullied him.
York told investigators she did not know about those thoughts although treatment records indicate she was informed, the affidavit said. York also allegedly pulled her son from inpatient treatment because of cost and allowed him to stop taking prescribed medication.
Although her son fired a handgun inside their then-homeduring October 2018, York allowed firearms inside a gun cabinet to remain in the home, the affidavit said. Her son made a video recording of himself breaking into the cabinet to obtain the firearms he took with him to Dennis.
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Mary York turns herself in, her trial is scheduled
Mary York (Photo: Supplied)
On Monday, Todd ruled there is probable cause for the charges, and he ordered an arrest warrant against York. That afternoon, she turned herself in at the Wayne County Jail and posted $750 to satisfy a $7,500 bond.
As she exited the courtroom Friday, York declined to speak with The Pal-Item about the charges. Likewise, Prosecutor Mike Shipman has also declined to answer Pal-Item questions about the active case and decision to charge York.
York learned Friday that her trial has initially been scheduled for Jan. 14.
How York’s charges compare to similar scenarios
It’s a situation most parents of school shooters never face despite the fact that from 2000 to 2017, 67 people were killed and 86 wounded at elementary and secondary schools and 70 were killed and 73 wounded at post-secondary institutions, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The Washington Post in 2018 revisited 145 school shootings this century. The source of the weapons used was identified in 105 of the cases. Of those 105 cases, the shooter 84 times took the weapon from home or from a relative or friend.
The Post found, however, that only four adults in that time were convicted and punished for the shooters’ access to firearms. None resulted from negligent-storage laws for weapons, and the most severe penalty was a 29-month sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
In that case, according to the Post, a Michigan man stored a .32-caliber semi-automatic handgun in a shoe box. A 6-year-old visitor found the handgun, took it to school and shot a classmate to death.
After Shipman filed charges against York, The Pal-Item analyzed media reports about 40 instances from 2013 through 2019 that involved juveniles younger than 18 taking firearms to school and firing them. Reports in 24 of those cases indicated how the juvenile acquired the weapon. In 16 of those instances, the juvenile took the firearm(s) from a family member, including 14 from parents, one from an uncle and one from a great-grandmother.
Prosecutors only twice filed charges against parents because of the firearms.
Dale and Tamara Owens have been charged with fourth-degree contributing to the delinquency of a minor after their then-16-year-old son, Joshua Owen, fired a gun Feb. 14 at V. Sue Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. They face up to 18 months in prison, if convicted.
The situation somewhat parallels details described in the affidavit charging Mary York.
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Authorities allege that Joshua Owen sent a text during March 2018 to a girlfriend indicating an inclination to carry out a school shooting. The girlfriend’s report precipitated a mental-health evaluation and investigation.
However, 11 months later, Owen took an unsecured handgun from the walk-in closet of his parents’ bedroom. At school, he attempted to shoot three students, but the gun did not initially fire. Owen then fired into the air. He is now charged with three counts of attempted murder, unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on school premises and unlawful possession of a handgun by a person younger than 19.
His parents are charged because they did not secure the handgun despite knowledge of their son’s threat.
In another instance, Raymond Lee Fryberg Jr. was sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted of gun crimes related to the .40-caliber Beretta his son used to kill four classmates and himself Oct. 24, 2014, at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington.
Jaylen Frybert, 15, took the handgun to school in a backpack and shot five people he had invited to sit with him at lunch, before fatally shooting himself. One of the victims survived.
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Raymond Fryberg’s charges resulted because he was the subject of a domestic violence protection order that prevented him from owning firearms. He, in fact, owned multiple firearms, including the Beretta.
Two other incidents reviewed by The Pal-Item resulted in charges, but not related to supplying a firearm.
LaShandra Dortch was charged with two counts of assault, one count of hindering prosecution and one count of providing a false address after her 15-year-old son shot two people outside a basketball game Jan. 25 at Davidson High School in Mobile, Alabama.
Two 14-year-old students were charged because they did not speak up although they knew 14-year-old James Austin Hancock had brought a gun to Madison High School in Middletown, Ohio, on Feb. 29, 2016. Four students were injured when Hancock opened fire in the school cafeteria.
Hancock had stolen the .380-caliber semi-automatic handgun from his great-grandmother, who was not charged because she did not know the gun was missing, according to reports.
Also in Ohio, a 17-year-old stole a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun from an uncle, and used the gun to kill three people and wound three others at Chardon High School.
Juveniles who had access to parents’ firearms
In other instances, the juveniles had access to their parents’ firearms in their homes.
A Sparks, Nevada, 12-year-old took a handgun from behind cereal boxes in a cabinet above the refrigerator and killed two people and wounded two others at Sparks Middle School. No charges were filed against the parents.
In Marshall County, Kentucky, a 15-year-old boy retrieved his father’s handgun off a shelf and took it to Marshall County High School. Two people were killed and 18 injured when he began shooting inside the school’s lobby. A prosecutor considered charges against the father, but no charges were ever filed.
The firearms used at Dennis were taken from a locked gun cabinet. The Pal-Item analysis found other instances when gun safes did not stop juveniles intent on accessing the firearms.
Last May in Highland Ranch, Colorado, two teens opened a parent’s gun safe with an ax to retrieve two handguns used to kill one and injure eight at a STEM school.
When authorities went to the home of a 13-year-old boy who shot a student and a teacher at Noblesville, Indiana’s West Middle School, they found keys hanging out of the lock of the family’s basement gun safe.
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A Rockford, Washington, 15-year-old knew the combination to his family’s gun safe. He took a rifle and a handgun to a high school, killing one and wounding three when he opened fire. Just the week prior, the teen had shown suicidal tendencies and told a mental-health professional he had school destruction on his mind, but his parents, even though recommended, did not change the gun safe’s combination.
In Troutdale, Oregon, a 15-year-old accessed his brother’s gun safe and carried an AR-15 rifle, a handgun and nine magazines of ammunition to a high school. One student was killed before the gunman committed suicide in a restroom.
In the incidents analyzed by The Pal-Item, seven juveniles used their own firearms from home, including firearms that they legally owned. One girl who shot her friend then herself had talked a friend into providing her that family’s handgun that she said she needed for self-defense.
Minors that live in homes with loaded, unlocked firearms
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence reports that 4.6 million minors in the United States live in homes where at least one loaded, unlocked firearm is kept. Of children younger than 10 living in homes with firearms, 73 percent know the location of the firearms and 36 percent admitted they had handled the firearms. Of those who had handed the firearms, 25 percent of their parents did not know they had handled the firearms.
In addition to school shootings, accessible firearms are used in juvenile suicides and in unintentional shootings. Just Thursday morning, a 2-year-old in rural Morgan County, Indiana, south of Mooresville, accidentally shot himself to death with an unsecured handgun.
Negligent-storage laws and child-access-prevention laws attempt to curb juveniles’ access to firearms. According to the Giffords Law Center, 27 stateshave child-access-prevention laws and 14 stateshave enacted negligent-storage laws.
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Shipman utilized Indiana’s child-access-prevention law for the most serious charge against York. The Level 5 felony accuses York of dangerous control of a child. A conviction on a Level 5 felony carries a three-year advisory sentence with a range of one to six years as established by the Indiana legislature.
Even when laws exist to combat juvenile access to firearms, they might not fit an incident’s circumstances. Inconsistencies exist among state laws, and possible penalties do not always satisfy advocates as an effective deterrent.
For example, 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis killed eight students and two teachers and injured 13 others May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas. He accessed his parents’ firearms, but the parents could not be charged under Texas law because their son was already 17.
There’s also controversy about the access laws infringing up on gun-owner rights. While one side sees the laws as cutting risk of school shootings, suicides and accidental deaths, the other cites Second Amendment rights and sees the laws as an unwanted step toward confiscation of firearms.
Parents who are not charged criminally are not shielded from civil procedures. In multiple instances that The Pal-Item analyzed, parents are subjects of lawsuits from victims or victims’ families. The lawsuits generally charge that the parents were negligent with their children’s access to firearms and/or failed to adequately recognize the danger their children posed because of mental-health issues.
Like Mary York, those parents might sit in a courtroom. But, unlike York, they won’t listen to criminal charges against them, charges that if they lead to conviction, could result in jail time.
Follow Mike Emery on Twitter: @PI_Emery
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