Witness-by-witness account of junior high student's attempted murder trial

Posted
Defense to present Monday morning
 
Updated: 4 p.m. Friday, July 12
 
The prosecution has rested in the NSJH gun trial. The defense will present evidence when court resumes on Monday. Closing arguments are expected on Tuesday.
 
Computer forensic expert finds gun search terms on boy's computer
 
Updated 5 p.m., Friday, July 12
Davenport police computer forensics expert Richard Nahnybida found searches about guns on the boy’s home computer.
Nahnybida testified Friday that the computer seized in a search warrant served on the boy’s home had Google search phrases, including:
“How do guns work?”
“Where is a pistol’s safety?”
“Survive and kill the killers in Area 51.”
The search requests were made Aug. 30, the day before the boy was arrested at North Scott Junior High on an attempted murder charge.
He also testified about finding a youtube search result for “Glock handgun safety tips review for beginners,” and another for, “Where is a pistol in dying light?” on the same computer.
Under questioning by the boy’s defense attorney, Meenaskshi Brandt, the Davenport police officer said he did not know that Dying Light and Area 51 are video games.
 
Boy's emails reveal gun warning
 
Updated: 3:00 p.m. Friday, July 12
 
Emails retrieved by North Scott School District computer technicians include disclosures to friends from a junior high student that hinted about bringing a gun to school.
 
Network Specialist Joshua Tipsword testified that he reviewed the boy's emails at police direction after the boy brought a gun to the junior high Aug. 31.
 
Tipsword detailed four email exchanges saved on the district's computer servers.
 
A 1:04 a.m., Aug. 29 email from the boy to another student read, "hear ye, hear ye, dankest of memes. I have a gun you'll see soon."
 
An 8:57 p.m., Aug. 30 email to a different student said, "... there is a surprise tomorrow. Ha Ha."
 
An Aug. 27 exchange included copies of anime style cartoons showing a girl hanging herself in a bedroom, and another stabbing herself in a classroom.
 
Tipsword also testified about 15 emails the boy sent between 1:21 and 3:52 a.m., Aug. 27 to a female classmate, with no replies.
 
At one point, the boy wrote, "This is sad. I'm talking to myself. Depression."
 
Tipsword said he initially was looking for others who might have known or been involved with the incident. He said he found no evidence that other students were involved.
 
Earlier this afternoon, three students testified about events in the classroom, where the boy is charged with pulling a gun, aiming at teacher Dawn Spring and attempting to fire.
 
Two students testified they heard "clicks," they said suggested the gun's safety was on.
 
"The gun clicked. he played with the side of the gun and you heard another click. Most of us were just watching it unfold. I was scared. Everyone in the classroom was scared," a boy said.
 
A 13-year-old girl testified, "I heard a click and I thought it was the safety. I know the safety makes a clicking noise when turned on. I think the safety was off," she said.
 
The girl said she was familiar with guns and had shot before.
 
Meenaskshi Brandt, one of the boy's two defense attorneys, asked each student to describe how Spring led the boy out of the classroom. All of the students testified they heard no yelling, or threats when the boy followed Spring into the hallway.

Dawn Spring: “Oh my god, he tried to shoot me”

Updated 1 p.m., Friday, July 12

North Scott Junior High teacher Dawn Spring said she was no more than four feet away from a student who aimed a loaded handgun at her and pulled the trigger.

Spring, testifying today in the boy’s trial on attempted murder charges, recounted the Aug. 31 incident at the junior high, and another interaction with the same boy a day earlier for improperly putting a gun-themed screen saver on his school-issued Chromebook.

She testified that brief talk seemed productive.

“He was fairly compliant and understood. I felt we had a very good conversation. He seemed to own it and I thought that was the end of it.”

Her next interaction came Friday, when the boy arrived late to a first period class, then pulled a gun from his book bag.

“I see (him) standing there with a gun pointed to the classroom of students. I said, ‘oh, looks like you’re having a really bad day. I was walking toward him and hoped to distract him from the students.

“He puts the gun up at face level and pulls the trigger. I thought I heard an audible click. Then he turned the gun and looked at it kind of weird,” Spring testified.

She said she thought, “Oh my god, he tried to shoot me. I better not let that happen again.”

At that point, Spring was unsure if the gun was real.

“I was praying it was a toy… . If it’s a toy, pellet, or air-soft gun, no matter what comes out of that gun it’s going to hurt.

“I batted it down multiple times and it kept coming back in my face. … He probably did that two or three times.”

Spring said she asked the boy to join her in the hallway. “Thank goodness he cooperated and we both walked out into the hallway.”

She steered him toward a counseling office.

“I tried to keep him to my side so he couldn’t put the gun I my face,” she told jurors.

And she tried to counsel the boy as they walked.

“What’s causing you to be so upset at school?” she said she asked. “Something at school? Something at home? He answered, ‘home. Home is bad. Home is really, really bad.”

“I did not feel threatened by the gun at that point. I immediately turned to empathize,” Spring said.

She testified that she told the boy, “we have amazing people at school who can help. I just started rambling names. … I’m just rambling at this point. We’re walking and talking.”

The pair reached the outside of the counselor’s office. “He still has the gun. He’s no longer threatening with the gun. Holly came out. (He) had slumped to the floor. I kind of saw him pointing the gun at his head.”

Counselor Holly Leinhauser previously testified Spring called to her from the hallway.

Spring said Leinhauser came out and saw the gun.

“Holly said, ‘no, oh no,’ and she started to go for the gun,” Spring testified.

Spring said she thought, “this is all or nothing… we have to get this gun away.”

Both held the boy and Leinhauser took the gun.

“She’s holding it like a teacup, shaking,” Spring testified. She said Leinhauser held it upside down by the trigger guard.

She said the boy warned, “’be careful. You’re holding the gun wrong, it could go off.’”

Spring took the gun from Leinhauser and carried it to the school office.

“It appeared to me to have the safety on. I went ahead and released the magazine so it no longer was a loaded gun.”

Updated Friday, July 12, 2019 10:12 am

Student teacher Kaitlyn MacDonald: ‘He pulled a gun and pointed it directly at me’

Former North Scott Junior High student teacher Kaitlyn MacDonald detailed the moments she faced a loaded gun in the hands of a student now on trial for attempted murder in Scott District Court.

She testified Friday the boy appeared agitated when he arrived late Aug. 31 in his first period classroom and loudly dropped his folder and computer bag on a desk.

"He pulled out a gun and pointed it directly at me. He said, 'I need everyone to get down,'" MacDonald testified today.

MacDonald, who was a senior education student at Augustana College, was in her first week of student teaching at the junior high.

"I figured if he was to start shooting I needed to protect my students," she said. "I was thinking of all the different ways I could protect students."

The classroom teacher, Dawn Spring, was facing a different direction.

MacDonald said she called to Miss Spring twice, and the teacher turned and saw the student and the gun.

Spring, who has not yet testified, approached the student, who moved the gun with her and pointed it at her, MacDonald testified.

"At that point, he actually pointed it at the center of her forehead," she said.

MacDonald testified Spring tried "to swat it away a little bit," but the boy persisted. "He kept returning it to her head."

She said Spring told the boy, "you're not having a very good day," and moved with him to the hallway. "The gun remained in his hand as she escorted him out of the classroom," MacDonald said.

When they left, MacDonald said she held the door handle and instructed the 28 remaining students to line up against a wall not visible from the door. Then she entered an adjoining classroom from a shared door and asked a teacher there to lock classroom doors.

She said she expected the worst.

"I had a moment when I accepted the fact I was going to die," MacDonald said. "And I thought I was never going to have my own classroom, never going to be a wife, never going to be a mom."

"I pretty much accepted at that point I was going to die that day. I was fully expecting I'd have to dive in front of my students."

Jurors also heard from school secretary Monyka Leitzen, who was in the counseling office where Spring brought the student. Spring and counselor Holly Leinhauser disarmed the student in the hallway.

Two students testified Friday.

One, a long-time friend of the defendant, said the boy showed him the gun in a backpack on the bus ride to school. That student said the magazine was not in the gun when he saw it.

"I told him not to do anything stupid ... Just keep it in your book bag."

Testimony was scheduled to resume at 11 a.m. after a short break.

Counselor Holly Leinhauser: ‘I can remember trying to pry his fingers off it’

UPDATED at 3:20 p.m., Thursday, July 11

North Scott Junior High school counselor Holly Leinhauser testified Thursday that she and teacher Dawn Spring struggled to disarm a seventh grader, after he sat despondent on a hallway floor in the minutes after pulling a loaded handgun on Spring.

Leinhauser, junior high librarian Michelle Willet, and two junior high students testified this afternoon in the boy's trial on attempted murder and other charges in Scott District Court. Leinhauser's testimony divulged the most details about the efforts to disarm the boy and alert authorities.

Spring had just walked the boy from her classroom, about 100 feet to Leinhauser's counseling office, then called from the hallway to the counselor.

"I heard my name, 'Holly,' being called, which is unusual because everyone usually calls me Miss Leinhauser," she testified.

At that point, Spring was reaching for the gun.

She said she saw the gun and told the boy, "you can't have that, you'll scare the kids. ... I went to take the gun and was not successful.

"It was my third attempt. I put my shoulder in and used my knee to hold his legs. ... He was trying not to give it up."

"I can remember trying to pry his fingers off it," Leinhauser testified. “It was an intense struggle. I got his fingers out and pulled it out and up in the air. It was the first time I heard (him) speak. He screamed, 'don't hold it like that. You're going to make it go off.'"

The counselor asked the boy why. He said, "it was his intent to end it and everything and anybody that got in his way."

Leinhauser gave the gun to Spring, who carried it to a school office. Then she invited the boy into the counseling office.

"I was thinking I should be with him. I'm the school counselor," she said.

She said the boy didn't move at first, until another school employee asked if he liked dogs.

"Why don't you come meet Cor," that employee said, according to Leinhauser. The boy pet the school dog, Corwyn.

"His demeanor changed after petting Cor," Leinhauser said.

Eldridge Police Sgt. Joe Sisler entered the office, asked a few questions, then placed the boy in handcuffs.

As he sat cuffed, Leinhauser said she asked again, why he brought the gun to school. She said the boy divulged he'd gotten in trouble at home, and had been ordered to clean and vacuum his home. She said he told her he was upset because his siblings contributed to the mess, but he was asked to clean up.

She also asked him where he got the gun.

He said he got it from a gun cabinet in the home. "He said it was locked, but said it wasn't that hard to figure out where the key was," she testified.

Leinhauser said she repeated the scenario to make sure she understood.

"He said, 'now that you said it out loud, it doesn't make sense. I should have just done it at home,'" Leinhauser testified.

Jurors also heard from two students.

One 13-year-old girl said she saw the boy looking at photos of handguns on his school-issued Chromebook at a study hall the day before.

Another student who said she'd know him through elementary school, testified he'd asked her, "if I would tell if he had a gun."

The girl testified that she replied: "Are you serious? Don't joke about that."

Defense attorneys asked that girl if the boy normally made jokes. "So you thought he wasn't serious?" defense attorney Meenaskshi Brandt said. "You thought he was just making a weird joke?"

"Yes," the girl replied.

Police found loaded gun with the safety on

Posted Thursday, July 11, 2019 12:35 p.m.

Eldridge and state police testifying in Scott District Court this morning explained the operation of the Smith & Wesson .22 caliber semi-automatic handgun taken from a junior high student Aug. 31 by his teacher and a counselor.

The boy was disarmed by his teacher, Dawn Spring, and counselor Holly Leinhauser in the counseling office.

Prosecutor Julie Walton said the boy remained armed as Spring ushered him to an interior hallway and walked with him more than 100 feet to the counseling office, where the pair physically pulled the gun from his hands.

Spring placed the weapon in a freezer in the counseling office, where Eldridge Police Officer Bruce Schwarz found it.

He and Sgt. Joe Sisler testified the safety was on when they encountered the gun with an unfired cartridge in the chamber and 11 more in a magazine.

Under questioning by the boy’s defense attorney, Melanie Thwing, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation firearm specialist Vic Murillo demonstrated operation of the weapon.

Murillo testified the gun would make no sound if the trigger was pulled and the safety was on, regardless if it was loaded or unloaded.

He also said the chambered cartridge showed no indications of a misfire, affirming the firing pin never touched the chambered cartridge.

Trial is expected to continue into next week for the boy facing felony attempted murder charge, an assault charge for threatening a teacher with a weapon, and a misdemeanor charge of bringing a firearm onto public school property.

Twelve jurors and three alternates are hearing testimony. The jury includes eight men and seven women.

Testimony continues this afternoon.

Attempted murder trial begins for North Scott Junior High student

Posted Thursday, July 11, 2019 10:02 a.m.

Scott County prosecutor Julie Walton detailed for the first time publicly how a North Scott Junior High student brought a gun to school Aug. 31 and was disarmed by a teacher and a counselor.

Trial testimony began today for the boy facing trial as an adult on attempted murder and other charges.

Walton said junior high teacher Dawn Spring was the first to confront the boy in the classroom after he came in late, dropped his belongings on a desk top and pulled a loaded handgun.

Walton said the boy quietly asked students to get down, then turn toward Spring, whose back was to the classroom.

Walton said the boy pulled the trigger, but the gun did not go off.

She said Spring then moved so the boy was pointing the gun away from students.

"She says to him, 'looks like you're having a bad day. Let's talk about it in the hallway,'" Walton told jurors in her opening statement.

Spring walked the boy to a counselor's office, where counselor Holly Leinhauser and Spring "

"Both Holly and Dawn Spring wrestle the gun away from," the boy. "It takes a bit of effort," Walton said.

She said Leinhauser asked the boy why.

"That's when he says I wanted to end it and anyone who got in my way," Walton said.

Walton said the gun had 11 bullets in a magazine and one in a chamber.

Defense attorney Meenaskshi Brandt told jurors the boy, "made a really bad decision... but that doesn't mean an attempt to commit murder."

"What he did was attention seeking behavior," she said.

She asked jurors to pay attention to forthcoming evidence about the boy's knowledge of guns and safeties, and other events that support her view the boy was seeking attention during his first week in the junior high.

Eldridge Police Office Bruce Schwarz, who serves as high school police liaison, was first to testify.

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