A Multnomah County jury has ruled that a 15-year-old boy who brought his stepdad’s rifle to school – then shot into the school, injuring a 17-year-old girl in the neck – must pay about $67,500 for the victim’s injuries and suffering.
The jury also determined that the boy’s stepdad is responsible for paying about $7,500 for failing to lock up the rifle, and for failing to store its ammunition in a different place.
By finding stepdad Steven Mott partially at fault, jurors said they hoped to send a message to gun owners everywhere that they must responsibly store their firearms. But at the same time, jurors said stepson Chad Escobedo was the most to blame because he took the rifle from his stepdad’s closet, hid the rifle in a field next to Springwater Trail High School and shot it twice into a classroom hours later in April 2007.
“Really, it was a crime of opportunity,” said Portland attorney Brendan Dummigan, who represented the injured 17-year-old girl. “How easy was it for Chad, when he was an upset 15-year-old going through a difficult time in life, to walk across the hallway into his parents’ room and get the gun out? It was so easy.”
The jury’s verdict this week came just before the Portland City Council Thursday is scheduled to consider a proposal to fine and jail adults if their firearms end up in the hands of a child. An exception would be made for adults who locked up their weapons.
In Escobedo’s case, flying glass, metal and bullet fragments injured 10 students – including Katlyn Perry, who suffered two bullet fragments to the neck. Perry missed a month of school, had nightmares, slept with the lights on and was afraid to move her head for fear it would cause internal bleeding. She is now 21.
Escobedo, now 19, is serving a nearly six-year prison sentence for second-degree assault and unlawful use of a weapon. During the three-day trial that concluded late Tuesday, Escobedo represented himself, and told jurors that they should hold him fully responsible for what he did to Perry.
“I hurt Ms. Perry, so I do believe I should be the one who helps her with the money,” Escobedo said in closing arguments. “It will be difficult, but I’m going to try. …I’m just trying to make things right.”
He wore a blue jail uniform and pink T-shirt. Jurors later said they were impressed that he took responsibility for the shooting, and that he appeared remorseful.
Perry’s attorney, Dummigan, had also asked jurors to find Escobedo’s mom, Deborah Mott, responsible. But they declined to do so. Dummigan said there were signs that Escobedo was volatile. A psychologist testified that Escobedo had told him he got into fights in middle school. He was struggling socially and academically, Dummigan said.
After the shooting, Escobedo told police he shot at the school because he was angry at a teacher who was failing him and upset with his mom because she wouldn’t let him live with his dad in Eastern Oregon. He called his mom after the shooting to tell her what he’d done. His stepdad called 9-1-1.
Steve Kraemer, an attorney representing the Motts, said they had no reason to believe Escobedo would do something so violent. Kraemer said there were no signs that Escobedo was troubled, including no fights in middle school.
Kraemer also argued that Escobedo was old enough to consciously plan and carry out the shooting. Even if his mom and stepdad had separated the gun and the ammunition, Escobedo might have managed to shoot up the school anyway.
Kraemer argued that the case was much different than a 9-year-old who finds his parents’ gun and accidentally ends up firing it.
The jury awarded Perry about $30,000 to cover her medical costs, and $45,000 for her pain and suffering.
After the shooting, she went on to graduate from high school. She now works at an assisted-living facility, where she serves meals to residents. She still has phantom pains and the area where the bullet fragments entered is itchy. She also has a noticeable ¾-inch scar, which people often ask her about.