August 26, 1997 in Nation/World

Scarred Survivor Tells Of Classroom Mahem Juror Faints During Prosecutor’s Account Of Loukaitis Rampage

Lynda V. Mapes Staff writer
 

Natalie Hintz stood before the jury and touched the scars she will wear forever.

The 15-year-old victim tearfully recounted the horror of last year’s shooting rampage in Moses Lake. She survived the hail of bullets. Her algebra teacher and two classmates were killed.

Hintz was the first witness called Monday in the King County trial of Barry Loukaitis, who is charged with three counts of first-degree aggravated murder and one count of first-degree assault.

If convicted, Loukaitis, 16, will spend the rest of his life in prison without parole. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

If the Superior Court jury finds Loukaitis was not criminally responsible for his actions, he will remain in treatment and behind bars until a judge determines he is no longer a danger to others.

Loukaitis remained silent with downcast eyes or hid his face in his hands as Hintz showed the jury the angry, purple scars curving around the front and back of her upper arm.

She pointed through her shirt to round scars on her torso, front and back, where tubes were inserted to keep her alive during more than a half-dozen surgeries. Then she described scars where her skin was lifted for grafts, and more scars where her liver was sewn back together, her diaphragm repaired and her arm reattached.

Loukaitis has confessed to opening fire on his Frontier Junior High School algebra class on Feb. 2, 1996, killing teacher Leona Caires and classmates Manuel Vela and Arnold Fritz, both 14. Hintz was critically wounded.

She struggled to describe for the jury the bloody mayhem in the classroom.

“The only way I can describe it is pure terror and confusion,” she said. “I didn’t have any idea what was going on, and you are in so much pain.

“I was yelling across the classroom, ‘I can’t feel my arm! I can’t feel my arm!’ and looking across the classroom and seeing the horrified faces of these people you know and grew up with your whole life. It was terrible,” the witness said, then dissolved into tears.

Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell argued in his opening statement that Loukaitis was a methodical killer. He gathered four guns from his parents’ home, carefully modified an ammunition belt to hold larger rounds, purchased a gunslinger’s outfit, and turned down a ride to school on the coldest day of the year so he could leave for school after his parents were out of the house.

Knodell said Loukaitis was following scripts laid out in violent movies and books, especially the novella “Rage” by Stephen King.

It appeared to be too much for one juror as Knodell reviewed the shooting in detail - describing how Fritz struggled to pull air into his ripped-open lung, while lying in a pool of blood.

The juror, a middle-aged man, fainted in his chair, bringing the proceedings to a halt as the judge, jurors, and audience looked on with astonishment. The juror quickly came to his senses, raising his head with a startled look on his face.

After a lengthy recess, the juror reappeared in the jury box, and remained there, despite a call for a mistrial by the defense team and their two attempts to have the juror replaced by an alternate.

Defense attorneys Michele Shaw and Michael Frost, both of Seattle, made no attempt to contest what Loukaitis did or to downplay the horror of it, even wincing as Hintz gave her testimony.

Shaw argued instead that the only explanation for Loukaitis’ “bizarre” behavior was insanity.

“Why did a 14-year-old honor student, with plans for college, no involvement with drugs and alcohol, and a good, honest, shy boy, commit a crime so awful it shocked the state of Washington?

“He was insane at the time of the offense. That is the only thing that explained what happened,” Shaw said.

Shaw promised to show that Loukaitis is a victim of a bipolar disorder and that he lived in a depressed, dysfunctional family plagued by mental illness for five generations.

Throughout the day, relatives of the victims remained in the courtroom, sitting side by side and occasionally weeping.

“We want justice. We want Barry to pay,” said Licha Vela, Manuel’s mother, during a break in the testimony.

She cradled the 1-year-old brother Manuel could not live to see as her husband, also named Manuel, said, “This is the toughest thing I have ever been through in my life. We just have to keep counting on God to help us through it.”

Shannon Hintz, Natalie’s mother, said her daughter woke up screaming the night before the trial started.

Natalie is still undergoing physical therapy and counseling because of the shooting, and the family is facing an estimated $1 million to $2 million in medical bills.

Yet Shannon Hintz said she is not bitter toward Loukaitis.

“I feel sorry for him and his family. We don’t know all the facts. If he is mentally ill, you can’t judge it the way you normally would. We want the jury to make the decision about what should happen.”

The trial is expected to last about a month. It was moved to Seattle from Grant County at the request of the defense. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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