COLVILLE - Two 5th-grade boys were led into a Stevens County courtroom in shackles Friday to face charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder after bringing a stolen gun and a knife to school and threatening to kill a number of their classmates.
Superior Court Judge Al Nielson ordered the boys, ages 10 and 11, held on $100,000 bonds. They’re expected to be formally charged in juvenile court with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, possession of a firearm and witness tampering.
The 5th graders at Fort Colville Elementary School were taken into custody Thursday morning after a search revealed one of the boys had a knife and a handgun in his backpack. Interviews by police revealed that the boys intended to use the weapons sometime Thursday, Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen said.
“These young men conspired to kill,” Rasmussen said. “It was interrupted by the bravery of a 4th grader who saw something and said something … and interrupted a murder.”
Both boys have been expelled in addition to a third, unidentified boy who knew about the two weeks of planning and intended targets but agreed not to say anything after he was promised $80 for his silence.
The plot was discovered prior to the start of school Thursday, Colville School District Superintendent Michael Cashion said.
“We’ve been told that the boys had a plan to kill an ex-girlfriend – I don’t know what a girlfriend means in 5th grade – and harm other students,” Cashion said. “There was no list, but names were given to the police. I can’t get my mind around it.”
Deputy Stevens County Prosecutor Lech Radzimski asked the judge to order that the boys have no contact with eight other children identified only by their initials. Fort Colville Elementary Principal Clayton Allen said all of the alleged victims were part of the same 5th grade class.
The boys “didn’t have a problem” telling police who they intended to harm, Allen said.
Allen has been meeting with concerned parents.
“I was not in good shape today,” he said, his hands shaking. “I told a friend, I don’t know how I would have dealt with it if a kid had been killed. It’s tough.”
The judge scheduled a Feb. 20 hearing intended to discover whether the boys had the capacity to form the intent to commit crime. Radzimski said children ages 8 to 12 are presumed not to have that capacity unless prosecutors can show evidence that the children tried to keep the crime secret, that they displayed similar conduct in the past, and whether the children knew at the time that what they were doing was wrong.
The investigation is continuing, and most of the probable cause that Radzimski used to charge the boys remained secret.
The incident began on a bus ride to school Thursday when a 4th-grader saw one of the two boys playing with a knife.
As soon as the bus arrived and the students entered a common area to eat breakfast, the boy alerted school employee Richard Payette.
Allen said Payette asked one of the suspects whether he had a knife and the boy denied it. Payette discovered both a knife and a handgun in the boy’s backpack in his classroom.
The 10-year-old is related to 27-year-old Eric L. Booth, who was sentenced to 25 years last year for the 2011 murder of Gordon Feist. Booth shot Feist after he and another man had tried to rob the 63-year-old.
Rasmussen said the 10-year-old stole the gun that was found in his backpack, but refused to give any more details about where he obtained it.
As soon as Payette found the weapons, he deduced that the 11-year-old might also be involved and separated the boys. School officials called Colville Police and detectives spent hours piecing together what Radzimski said was a two-week plot.
Parents were all alerted by 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
“I don’t think we made any mistakes in how we handled that,” Allen said.
Rasmussen agreed. “The proof that they did the right thing is that no child is dead. It was averted by a child who was brave enough to say something and brave enough to do something.”