On February 29, 2000, Kayla Rolland (6) arrived for her classes at Buell Elementary School, in Mount Morris Township, Michigan. During a change of classes, most of the first-graders were lined up in the hallway, ready to move to their next class. As some children lingered in the classroom – including Kayla – first-grade teacher Alicia Judd went into the hallway to check on the other children.
Dedrick Owens (6) approached Kayla. Standing in front of her, he said: “I don’t like you.” Kayla turned around and retorted: “So?” Without responding, Dedrick lifted out a .32 handgun from his trouser waistband and shoot Kayla. The bullet entered her right arm and travelled through a vital artery. As a small, crimson spot spread across her pullover shirt, Kayla said: “I’m going to die,” to another classmate before crumpling to the ground. Judd ran back into the classroom, saw the blood-spattered body and called 911.
Dedrick, meanwhile, placed the gun on his desk and ran out into the hall, where he was detained by other teachers and taken to the principal’s office. After being treated by paramedics at the scene, Kayla was rushed to hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 10H29.
Dedrick had become the youngest school shooter in a country overwhelmed by such tragedies. He was taken into police custody where he explained what he had done. It was noted he showed no remorse; nor did he seem upset. He simply believed he’d been ‘naughty’ and that a ‘bad thing had happened’. Then he sat drawing pictures on a piece of paper.
At the time of the shooting, Dedrick’s father, Dedric, was in jail for violating parole. He’d been convicted of cocaine possession with the intent to sell. Police learnt Dedrick and his older brother had been living in a crack den operated by his uncle, one Sir Marcus Winfrey, and Jamelle James. Dedrick’s drug-addict mother, Tamarla, had moved the two boys in with her brother and his friend after the family was evicted from their home. Addicts would often trade stolen guns for drugs at the crack house.
“He was basically living in hell,” said Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickerell. The house had been under investigation for drug and gun trafficking before the shooting. However, police were building a case and hadn’t yet moved on the house.
The gun used in the shooting had been stolen by Jamelle, who routinely kept it loaded and often twirled it in front of the two boys. Several witnesses told police they’d seen Dedrick playing with the gun. Alarmingly, it was found that numerous phone calls had been placed to the police by the neighbours, who knew that the living conditions were unacceptable for two children.
Police also learnt Dedrick had behavioural issues. He was known to kick and hit his other classmates and pick fights. Worse, he’d once been suspended for stabbing a fellow student with a pencil. And he had attacked Kayla before. Just the day before the shooting, he’d attempted to kiss her and she pushed him away. He told police he’d taken the gun to school in an attempt to scare her after their playground altercation.
Because of his age, it was deemed that Dedrick lacked the ability to form intent and he was not charged with murder. Instead, he was expelled for 90 days in accordance with Michigan’s school anti-weapons law and placed into foster care.
For not keeping the gun in a secure location and therefore granting Dedrick access to the weapon, Jamelle James was charged with involuntary manslaughter. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to two to 15 years imprisonment. Sir Marcus Winfrey pleaded guilty to federal firearms charges and was sentenced to six to 12 months imprisonment. Tamarla Owens, who claimed she had no idea that stolen guns were being sold inside the house, was charged with neglect.