ROSWELL – Mason Campbell, the 12-year-old boy who opened fire with a shotgun inside Berrendo Middle School in Roswell in January, seriously injuring two students, on Wednesday was remanded into the custody of the state Children, Youth and Families Department until age 21.
Campbell, now 13, had pleaded no contest to three counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and carrying a firearm into a school in May.
District Judge Freddie J. Romero made his ruling after a day-long sentencing hearing in state District Court in Roswell. Campbell is to be held in a facility of CYFD’s choice. The sentence allows for him to be released earlier if the department determines he has successfully completed all required therapies and counseling, and has been rehabilitated. Under the state’s Children’s Code, it is the maximum penalty that could have been assessed to a child of Campbell’s age, and what had been requested by the state’s special prosecutor, Matt Chandler.
One of Campbell’s attorneys, Robert Gorence, had argued that because Campbell was amenable to treatment that he be given two years in CYFD custody with an annual review for extension after that.
Injured in the shooting were students Nathaniel Tavarez, 13, and Kendal Sanders, also 13.
Tavarez spent weeks in hospitals and rehabilitation centers for treatment of wounds to his chest, heart, face and head. He had been on a ventilator for a period of time. The vision in both eyes has been severely diminished.
Sanders was released from a hospital after surgeries to repair damage to her right arm and shoulder and right breast. Both children still have lead pellets lodged in their bodies from the shotgun blasts.
Wednesday’s hearing in a filled courtroom was steeped in emotional testimony.
Bert Sanders and Niki Portio, parents of Kendal, and Alfred and Donna Tavarez, parents of Nathaniel, related how the shooting affected their lives and the rest of their family and how they feared that their children might die.
Portio told the court that her daughter initially required surgery to repair damage to her liver and kidney, as well as surgery to repair her arm and shoulder. Subsequent emergency arterial bypass surgery was performed on her arm when it was discovered she was bleeding internally. Further, she still has more than 150 lead pellets in her body, mostly in the right breast area. Because of the pellets, she will require monitoring her whole life for lead poisoning, “may never be able to have children of her own, and will eventually need breast reconstruction surgery.”
Donna Tavarez recalled the horror of learning of her son’s injuries and rushing to the hospital.
“I just kept screaming, ‘Oh my god, not my baby,’ ” she testified.
He, too, has pellets still lodged in his body, including one deep in his brain, and will also need to be monitored for lead poisoning for the rest of his life.
Both children audibly wept while listening to the statements of their parents and other relatives.
In a touching moment, Kendal guided Nathaniel by the hand to the podium where they addressed the court.
Nathaniel, speaking softly recalled how he woke up in the hospital and didn’t know where he was or why he was there, and how he was thirsty but unable to swallow.
“I still want to know why,” he said. “Why did this happen to me?”
He asked Judge Romero to impose the maximum sanction on Campbell, which would essentially amount to nine years’ confinement.
“He will have nine years to deal with this. I will be dealing with this for the rest of my life,” Nathaniel said.
“I have forgiven Mason, but it is not OK,” said Kendal in a written statement read by Chandler, in which she also reminded Campbell of all the things that a normal teenager can do that she will no longer be able to participate in.
Also addressing the court were Jim and Jennifer Campbell, Mason’s parents.
They apologized to the injured children and to their families, and then apologized to Mason for not knowing about the bullying that he’d been subjected to and the silent suffering the boy had endured.
Mason Campbell, mostly stoic throughout the court proceeding, showed emotion and wiped tears when his grandmother and brother testified on his behalf. He was particularly moved when his brother, Garrett, 16, apologized to the children injured by Mason, and to their families, and then apologized to Mason.
“I’m not that good of an older brother,” he said. “I hardly ever listen to your problems. I should have been there for you when you needed me.”
At one point, Mason Campbell stood and turned to the crowded gallery and apologized to his former classmates and their families, as well as to Kevin Hayes, a school security guard who sustained minor injuries.
“I am very sorry for my actions. It’s not what I meant to do. I’m very sorry Kendal and Nathaniel and Mr. Hayes. Sorry,” Campbell said.
Early on the morning of Jan. 14, after a three-day weekend, Campbell walked into the school’s crowded gymnasium holding a duffel bag from which he removed a 20-gauge shotgun with a sawed off stock and opened fire.
Chandler told the court how Campbell planned the attack days in advance and kept a journal detailing his intentions. Originally, Campbell planned to use a pistol belonging to his father to shoot a bully at the school who had been tormenting him. Unable to locate the gun, Campbell later wrote that he would instead stab the bully with a knife. That plan, too, was altered and Campbell wrote that he would randomly open fire with a shotgun.
The name of the alleged bully was not released.
Chandler also told how Campbell was driven to school by his uncle on the morning of the shooting and when asked what was in a duffel bag the boy said it was items he needed for PE class.
Initially after the shooting, Mason was sent to an Albuquerque psychiatric hospital for evaluation, then transferred to the Chaves County Juvenile Detention Center in Roswell.
During a March hearing, the court accepted a forensic evaluation indicating that Campbell was competent to stand trial, having met the criteria that the boy was aware of the charges against him and was capable of assisting in his own defense.
Campbell’s attorneys asked the court to allow the boy to remain at the Chaves County facility. A representative from the center, however, testified that the facility had been overcrowded and there had been concerns about Campbell’s safety that required he be placed in isolation.
Romero consequently ruled that Campbell be transferred to the Bernalillo County Youth Services Center, where he would continue receiving treatment while being detained.
In May, Campbell, speaking through his attorneys, entered a plea of no contest to the charges against him.
Chandler said the biggest benefit of the plea was it avoided putting everyone through a trial.
As a practical matter, he noted, a plea of no contest was the same as a guilty plea “in the eyes of the court,” and the range of sentencing options available to the court wouldn’t change in either situation.
After Wednesday’s hearing, defense attorney Gorence said, “what’s important is that the court recognized that Mason is amenable to treatment,” and will have access to the full spectrum of therapies, counseling and family counseling available at whichever detention facility CYFD decides he should be placed.