The Killing Of Kayla

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At the end of the movie the Manchurian Candidate, Frank Sinatra, unable to fathom the depth and extent of the evil that had been done to the mind of a man programmed to become a killer, cries, "Hell, hell!" People may say the same thing after last week's school shooting of a six-year-old girl by a six-year-old boy. On Tuesday the boy brought a pistol to an elementary school in Mount Morris Township, near Flint, Mich., and shot a classmate, Kayla Rolland, to death. He is too young to be charged with anything, but the county prosecutor has charged the man who left the loaded gun lying around with involuntary manslaughter, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and gross neglect--each of which has a wider application. The story may be too unusual for the drawing of larger lessons, but one reason it is so troubling is that it touches the worst of America's social ills, including the shaping of a boy who became a loaded gun himself.

Who killed Kayla Rolland? A six-year-old classmate did it. On Tuesday morning he went to the Theo J. Buell Elementary School carrying both a concealed Davis .32 semiautomatic handgun, advertised as "the original pocket pistol," and a knife. Another kid reported the knife to a teacher, and it was taken away. The boy held on to the gun. Shortly before 10 a.m., Chris Boaz, a seven-year-old, witnessed the following scene:

The children were changing classrooms, from a small reading group to a computer-training class. This is contrary to the police report that the crime occurred inside a classroom. The kids were on the first level heading to the second when the boy pulled out his pistol. Kayla was walking ahead of him, up the school stairs. He called out, "I don't like you." She had her back to him, then turned and asked, as a challenge, "So?" The boy, who had first pointed the gun at another classmate, swung around and fired a single bullet that entered Kayla's right arm and traveled through her vital organs. Boaz says he saw blood on both sides of Kayla's stomach. She grabbed her stomach, then her neck, gasping for air.

The shooter ran to the bathroom to hide and tossed the gun into the trash. Kayla was treated by paramedics at the school and was taken to Hurley Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 10:29 a.m.

Immediately after the shooting, the principal made an announcement over the public-address system ordering teachers to lock all classroom doors. The school was closed at 11 a.m., and police were called for crowd control when distraught parents rushed to pick up their children. The boy, who did not attempt to run away, was taken to the principal's office, where he was questioned, and later to a police station.

The boy's father Dedric Owens is in jail for violating parole after serving time for possession of cocaine "with intent to deliver." The boy and his eight-year-old brother had been living with their mother Tamarla until recently, when she was evicted. The two boys then moved into a crack house, where guns were traded for drugs, with their uncle and the 19-year-old man who left the murder weapon, evidently loaded, under some blankets. A search of the house produced a loaded pump-action shotgun and a rock of crack cocaine. The boy and his brother had been sharing a single sofa as a bed.

Outside the white clapboard house, dented hubcaps and other discarded auto parts lay strewn among candy wrappers, soda bottles and wires. Broken windows were covered with a blue tarp. A light so dim it might have been a continuation of the dark showed from inside. Of the boy, Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickerell said, "He was basically living in hell."

Who killed Kayla Rolland? The hell in which the boy lived has to be partly responsible, because it helped produce a child full of rage and confusion. The boy was said to have played normal street games. He was also known to have started fights. Boaz said the boy once punched him because he wouldn't give him a pickle. He said the boy was made to stay after school nearly every day for saying "the F word," flipping people off, pinching and hitting. Some weeks before, he had stabbed a girl with a pencil. He had attacked Kayla before and, on the day prior to the killing, tried to kiss her and was rebuffed.

Early on the morning of the shooting, he and his brother got into a fight with Boaz's 10-year-old uncle. Boaz's uncle punched the boy, who said, according to Boaz's grandmother, "Do you want me to take my gap [sic] out and shoot you?" The boy's father once asked his son, "Why do you fight?" The boy replied, "I hate them."

With a record of behavior like this, one might ask why no one was paying more helpful attention to him. The teacher to whom the knife was reported did not take him to the principal's office, where he could have been searched. There is no sign that any social-service organization was watching, or even that one was in the vicinity. His parents were worse than useless to him. Tamarla, a drug addict, admitted that she exposed her children to marijuana regularly. Boaz's mother tried to comfort her son, who is growing increasingly agitated about the killing he saw and does not want to return to school. She explained that the boy who did the shooting "cried out for help, and nobody helped him."

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