Slumped over like a question mark, 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis shuffled into a Grant County courtroom, where he was charged Monday with aggravated murder in the shooting deaths of a Moses Lake teacher and two students.
“He’s a little boy, a lost little boy,” said Marva Vance, grandmother of a 13-year-old girl wounded in Friday’s bloody attack at Frontier Junior High School in Moses Lake.
“You wouldn’t think he’d be capable. But no one knows what goes on in the mind of a child.”
Loukaitis, also charged with first-degree assault in the wounding of the girl, stared at the floor and said in a clear voice he understood the charges against him.
A Feb. 20 hearing is scheduled to decide whether he should be tried as an adult, as requested by Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell.
If Knodell gets his wish, Loukaitis faces life in prison without parole. But if convicted of murder as a juvenile, he would be sent to a state juvenile institution until he turns 21.
Aggravated first-degree murder is the only charge that carries the death penalty in Washington, but the state Supreme Court has barred execution for defendants under 18.
Court documents released Monday state that Loukaitis admitted the shootings to a Moses Lake police officer.
The murder weapon was a .30-.30-caliber rifle, according to the documents.
With two handguns and 78 rounds of ammunition strapped to his body, Loukaitis is accused of calmly entering a classroom and gunning down math teacher Leona Caires, 49, and students Manuel Vela, 14, and Arnold Fritz, 15. Natalie Hintz was wounded.
Court Commissioner James R. Brown denied motions by defense attorney Garth Dano to close Monday’s hearing to the public and seal court records.
Death threats against the boy’s parents and the emotions surrounding the case merited keeping the public and news media out, Dano said.
Brown, however, said the amount of information already known about the case and the public’s interest in its outcome convinced him to keep the hearing open.
Dano said he had advised his client to “remain mute and not respond” in court, but Brown told him he would expect his client to answer a series of routine questions.
Brown denied a prosecution motion to either hold Loukaitis without bail or raise bail to $1 million. Bail was set at $500,000, but Dano said he would not seek the boy’s release because of concerns about his safety.
The boy’s parents, Terry and JoAnn Loukaitis, watched tensely from the front row of the gallery as their son was led from the courtroom in leg chains.
JoAnn Loukaitis filed for divorce from her husband of 16 years on Jan. 5, exactly four weeks before the shootings.
In divorce papers, she said her husband “is an alcoholic and behaves irrationally.” She claimed her husband would not share the family’s financial records with her.
The couple owns and operates a sandwich shop in Moses Lake.
Dano said the couple would not talk to reporters. The attorney refused to comment on possible motives for the shooting.
“I know everyone is anxious to hear some reasons behind this tragedy, but I am unable to make further comment at this time,” Dano said.
Dano said Loukaitis’ parents wanted him to express their “heartfelt sorrow and compassion for the family and friends of the victims and the community as a whole. They’d like to erase this tragedy.”
He then asked the community for compassion for the Loukaitis family.
Relatives of shooting victim Vela wore light-blue ribbons in the courtroom.
“Manuel’s nickname was Baby Blue,” said one of the men, who asked to be identified only as “Manuel’s uncle.”
Earlier Monday, 17-year-old Larry Bolden, who said he was a close friend of Vela’s, said it is true that Vela and another student had teased Loukaitis. Teasing was mentioned by some students as a possible motive for the killings.
“They teased him because he was nobody,” Bolden said. “It’s how society works. Someone tries to get up and they have to cut him down.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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