After an emotional day of testimony, Robert W. Gladden Jr., the 15-year-old charged in the Perry Hall High School cafeteria shooting, was sentenced Monday to 35 years in prison.
Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. went beyond state sentencing guidelines to put Gladden away until he is at least 50 years old, citing continued fear in Perry Hall along with a national concern for school safety that has grown stronger since the Newtown, Conn. school massacre.
Kathleen Watkins, a school administrator, told the court that the school is still working to get past the shooting that injured Daniel Borowy, a 17-year-old special needs student, on the first day of school. One teacher only recently returned after being away since the incident, Watkins said. And about 75 students refuse to eat in the cafeteria, instead opting to eat in the library or forgoing lunch altogether, she added.
Gladden's attorney and his family had asked for leniency after he pleaded guilty last week, and the teen read from a handwritten letter in which he apologized to the family. "I am only asking for understanding," he said, calling the shooting an accident.
"He was just starting adolescence," his lawyer George Psoras Jr. said in court.
Psoras said Gladden was a youth in need of psychiatric help who made a poor decision and should not have his life thrown away.
Cahill said he was not convinced, adding that some of the day's most moving testimony came from Watkins, who described how she saw Gladden during lunch, swinging the shotgun before pointing directly at her.
"I was looking right down the barrel," she recalled, shakily stating that she felt she would have been a second victim if it weren't for the school guidance counselor who sprinted over and bear hugged Gladden, causing a shot to fire off into the ceiling.
Watkins spoke of the terror among 500 students running from the lunchroom and shattering glass doors.
Sabrina Stephan, 16, spoke of her fear as Gladden pointed the gun in her direction. The incident led her to question her safety at school.
"It's people like him that make it such a bad place," she said.
While Psoras and several witnesses mentioned different aspects of Gladden's troubled childhood, such as his parents' divorce and close family members who committed suicide, Cahill said divorce has not caused other children to commit such violent acts.
He also dismissed claims that Gladden was bullied, saying that the evidence shows that Gladden bullied others.
The judge also pointed to Gladden's recorded jail phone calls and visits with his family after the shooting. In those recordings, the judge said, he joked that he wished he had attended Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, and at one point told his mother he did not care if his victim lived.
Psoras argued that since those comments were recorded, Gladden has become remorseful now that he has been taking medications and can begin to understand the consequences of his actions. He later expressed the family's disappointment with the sentence, which went beyond statewide guidelines of 20 to 30 years.
Prosecutors had asked that Gladden be given life in prison, but later said they were satisfied with the result.
During the sentencing, Gladden's family, including his parents, older sister and others spoke of the difference between the Gladden who pulled the trigger and the "Bobby" they all knew.
"I'm not here today to make excuses for my son," said his mother, Bonnie Gladden, in court. Adding later, "I know Bobby wants to change."
Rosemary Borowy, Daniel's mother, struggled to describe how the shooting has affected her family but thanked those who tried to comfort her son in the cafeteria. She said she now calls the school every day to check on Daniel.
She said he understands he was shot and that he no longer feels pain, but spoke of how he wanted to return to school to be with his friends.
"It was very hard for him when he wasn't going to school," she said. "That is his social life."
"I just pray that he meant it," Borowy's mother said of Gladden's note.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun