A judge decided Wednesday the 13-year-old who shot a teacher and classmate at Noblesville West Middle School this year will be sent to a Department of Corrections juvenile facility.
Under Indiana law, the shooter –– who pled guilty to 11 counts during a hearing last week –– cannot be charged as an adult. As a juvenile in the DOC, he’ll be expected to complete a set of programs. The juvenile’s release is contingent on the programs' completion, not a mandated court-ordered length of time.
Depending on how long it takes the shooter to complete the DOC juvenile programs he could be in the facility until he’s 18 years old. The details of the programs were not discussed publicly in the hearings.
The juvenile’s lawyer Chris Eskew argued for him to be sent to a private mental health facility instead.
“Most of the programs the state listed to the DOC are for sex abuse and alcohol substance abuse,” Chris Eskew says. “There’s very little actual emotional treatment there, so when he gets through those few programs he’ll be released from the DOC.”
Wednesday's disposition –– similar to a sentencing –– capped months of shock and community outcry since the boy walked into his classroom and shot teacher Jason Seaman and student Ella Whistler multiple times. At last week's hearing, new evidence was released and police, school administrators and victims gave testimony.
WFYI is not identifying the boy because he has been charged and sentenced as a juvenile.
Weighing the Options
In a juvenile case, the focus is on a minor's rehabilitation, not punishment.
During last week's hearing, the juvenile defense lawyers argued for the 13-year-old shooter to be sent to a private mental health facility where he could receive in-patient treatment. Of the 15 facilities asked to take the boy, only one agreed.
The lawyers argued he may be negatively influenced by other children in the DOC's juvenile facility. They also said the boy was "bright" and would complete the DOC programs quickly.
Either upon release from the DOC's juvenile facility or as the boy turns 18, the court can reinstate jurisdiction and place him on probation until he's 21.
Last week, Ella Whistler’s parents and Jason Seaman called for the maximum punishment against the 13-year-old.
Other options could have included outpatient treatment, suspension of future driving rights or a court order to pay restitution.
The judge also ordered a no-contact order between the juvenile and Whistler and Seaman.
The Judge's Decision
Judge Paul Felix says he chose the harshest of his available options for the juvenile. Felix says the boy showed no empathy or emotion during the previous hearing.
Felix says he had a responsibility to protect the safety of others. He also says he doesn’t worry about the boy being negatively influenced in the DOC facility because all of his actions were self-motivated.
He told the juvenile, if he had been in adult court, he could have been sentenced to 40 years in prison for the 11 counts, which include attempted murder.
The judge also said the boy’s apology, which was read by his lawyers at the previous hearing, was insincere.
Felix says he saw the boy laughing when the court played a video of the juvenile talking about shooting his classmates.
Whistler may never regain full control of her arm, according to her doctors. Felix says the juvenile has permanently changed peoples’ lives.
“I guess [Whistler] showered that day by washing her own hair,” Felix says. “Put on her own clothes.”
Seaman also has lasting injuries from multiple bullet wounds.
“I’d guess with absolute certainty that if Mr. Seaman –– if he thought about heroes that morning….he never thought the word hero would be synonymous with his own name,” Felix says.
Felix then considered the impact on all students at Noblesville West Middle School.
“This would be the day introducing them to real fear and horror,” Felix says.
At the end of the explanation, the judge turned to the juvenile sitting in an orange and white jumpsuit. The boy's glasses made his eyes seem large, his parents next to him.
“You went into school that day not intending to kill two people, but kill many people,” Felix says. “It shakes me to think that your goal was to use every single round in your possession to kill as many people as possible.”
The shooting led to the Noblesville School District passing a $50 million tax referendum on the midterm ballot. The referendum will pay for more mental health counseling and security improvements.
Felix told the boy during Wednesday's disposition hearing, "You took this community's sense of safety."