Teen wounded by police after bringing gun to school
By John K. Wiley
Spokane, Wash.— A teenager severely wounded after bringing a gun to school, hoping police would kill him, has pleaded guilty in a juvenile court agreement that spares him prison but requires him to talk to other teens about seeking help for depression.
Prosecutors agreed to leniency for Sean Fitzpatrick, 17, whose misshapen face bears the scars of a police bullet that tore through his left eye socket and palate, leaving him partially blind and unable to speak clearly.
Fitzpatrick pleaded guilty Thursday to eight counts of reckless endangerment, a gross misdemeanor. Juvenile Court Commissioner Joseph Valente sentenced him to 45 days of electronic home monitoring and 400 hours of community service. He will be on probation until he is 21 and must continue mental health counseling.
In a badly slurred voice, Fitzpatrick apologized to police, Lewis and Clark High School students and teachers, and the community, saying he never intended to hurt anyone but himself. And he thanked those officers and his doctors for helping to save his life.
"I look forward to talking to other teens about suicide and depression," he said. Fitzpatrick is undergoing therapy and takes medication to control his depression, his lawyer, Carl Hueber, told the court.
Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker originally planned to charge Fitzpatrick in adult court with assault with a deadly weapon, a felony, to send a message against bringing guns to school. Conviction could have carried a maximum sentence of 40 years.
But as the months went by -- and after seeing photos of the boy's shattered body -- Tucker changed his mind, saying Fitzpatrick's punishment "is being dealt out to him every morning."
For two years prior to his failed suicide attempt, Fitzpatrick had auditory hallucinations, which would have made it difficult to prove to an adult court jury that the mentally ill teen intended to harm others, the prosecutor said.
"This plea agreement requires him to talk to troubled kids, at-risk teens and parents' groups," Tucker said. "It will be a benefit to this community. If he can reach one person, I think it will be a great result."
Tucker said he was moved by a petition urging leniency and signed by about 800 of Lewis and Clark High's 2,500 students.
The classmate who organized that petition, Amber Spencer, was in court for Fitzpatrick's hearing.
She said her classmates are divided over Fitzpatrick's punishment, but was glad Tucker chose to accept the plea agreement.
"He has to live with that for the rest of his life," she said. "It was kind of sad seeing him up there. He's only 17."
Fitzpatrick was 16 when he brought a 9 mm pistol to the high school last Sept. 22. As students and teachers were evacuated, Fitzpatrick briefly talked with officers before raising the gun in their direction.
Officers opened fire, hitting him three times -- in the face, stomach and right arm -- leaving him critically wounded.
At his home, investigators found a two-page note indicating the depressed teen planned to commit "suicide by cop," Police Chief Roger Bragdon said.
Fitzpatrick answered "guilty" eight times when Valente read the charges; one each for the four police officers who faced him down and for a student teacher and three students who were eating lunch in Room 305.
When the students did not respond to his polite request that they leave, Fitzpatrick, who had swallowed 30 over-the-counter pain relievers, fired a single shot into a closet, police said.
He then barricaded himself and asked police negotiators for more pain killers before raising his weapon at officers and being shot, Hueber told the court.
"Your honor, this wasn't Colombine. This was a failed suicide attempt," the lawyer said.
Fitzpatrick's parents, Angel Fitzpatrick and Linda Schearing, told Valente they were unaware of their son's inner torment. Both said they were thankful for police officers who helped their son breathe and doctors who patched him up, giving Sean Fitzpatrick a second chance at life.
Valente said he sees countless teens who are overwhelmed by life and lamented there aren't more mental health services for them.
"Whatever is going on in your life," he said. "A gun is not the answer."
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