By RENEE WINKLER, Courier-Post Staff
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Ex-Highland student ordered to undergo counseling, testing
CAMDEN – A teenager who carried loaded handguns to Highland High School in June was sentenced Monday to three years probation.
Delivering the sentence, Superior Court Judge Angelo DiCamillo said he was more concerned about the boy’s mental state 60 years from now than he was about punishment.
The probationary term will include continued counseling and monitoring of the teen’s medication for depression and a bipolar diagnosis, DiCamillo said. It could include a residential treatment program if one is recommended by the state’s Juvenile Justice Commission, the judge said.
The youth, then a 16-year-old sophomore and honor student at the Gloucester Township high school, had visited a guidance counselor to report that he was carrying the loaded guns in a backpack. He was immediately admitted into a crisis center and remained there for six days, public defender Mary Beth Neilson said.
She said the youth was an ideal student, winner of awards from faculty and his peers, involved in programs to interest younger students in band and music programs, and active in a project for a prejudice-free high school environment.
Then, Neilson said, he broke up with his girlfriend, his father underwent a kidney transplant, and the youth began to suffer depression. She argued that his thoughts of violence were linked to overmedication, a situation reported in the national media as a cause of teenage suicide.
The father of the 16-year-old who was the alleged target of the potential violence remained angry about the effect the incident had on his son, who he said has moved out of state because he is afraid to return to his father’s neighborhood.
“This devastated my family,” said the father, who attended every hearing in the case. “He’s a very smart individual, obviously smart enough to tell right from wrong. Gun violence is a growing trend among American teens.”
“This juvenile is not the victim,” said Assistant Camden County Prosecutor Diane Marano. She referred to a letter he had written to a friend previously referring to a “plan to do a school shooting.”
She said he sought out a guidance counselor at a teacher’s suggestion, because that teacher thought he was acting strangely.
DiCamillo, who could have sentenced the youth to up to three years in custody, said he believed incarceration would worsen the juvenile’s depression. Three medical professionals recommended treatment, not punishment, DiCamillo said.
Reach Renee Winkler at (856) 486-2455 or firstname.lastname@example.org