TAUNTON —A 13-year-old Taunton boy faced a judge Tuesday on charges he shot another boy who had reportedly been bullying him.
Appearing in Taunton Juvenile Court, the middle school student was ordered held without bail, pending a dangerousness hearing on Wednesday, WPRI-TV reported.
The bullet struck a 12-year-old boy in the arm and ended up lodged in his chest, according to police. He’s expected to recover, officials said.
The 13-year-old youth was charged as a juvenile with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and firing a gun near a dwelling.
The incident happened on Monday afternoon on Highstone Street in Taunton possibly in connection with an incident of “Facebook bullying,” Taunton Police Lt. Paul Roderick said.
Roderick said the suspect felt threatened, returned to his home, unlocked a gun safe where his mother kept a legally-owned gun, went back to the wooded area where the victim was located and shot him.
It was unclear from Roderick’s press release whether the gun safe was secured with a combination or key lock and how the suspect got access to either the combination or the key. The family could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Under state law, a person must be at least 18 years old to obtain a gun license, or at least 15 years old with parental consent, to purchase, possess or transport non-large-capacity rifles, shotguns and ammunition, according to the state’s gun ownership webpage. For the broader “license to carry,” which allows for the carrying of concealed handguns and the purchase of large-capacity firearms, a person must be at least 21 years old.
Elizabeth Englander, the director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) at Bridgewater State University, said a child of 12 or 13 does not yet have the ability to fully grasp the implications of an action as momentous as taking out a gun during a conflict.
“A child that age doesn’t have a sense of the longevity of these kinds of actions, that a shooting can alter the trajectory of your life,” said Englander, a professor of psychology at BSU.
“They don’t have the ability to conceive of the long-term implications of an action or the idea of permanency, the idea that when someone is dead, it truly means they are not coming back or what 70 or 80 years or forever feels like.”
“That’s why we say they feel invincible. They know bad things can happen but it feels very distant.”
And that’s why there is a separate juvenile justice system, she said, in recognition of those developmental differences between children and adults.
“They don’t really have the capacity of thinking through, ‘If I get this gun, what could go wrong?’ An 18-year-old hopefully can say, ‘Wait, a lot could go wrong. This person could be hurt or I could go to jail’,” Englander said.
WBZ-TV reported that the suspect’s mother, who asked not to be identified, said her son had been tormented by bullying for years and had “had enough.”
She reportedly told WBZ-TV that her son told her several juveniles came into their yard on the day of the shooting and tried to stab him and he was scared, got the gun, tried to shoot it into the air but shot the victim in the arm instead.
Englander said in this case, there are a lot of unknown details, but in general she said bullying online almost always spills over into school.
“Kids this age are hard wired to really care about social interactions. That’s what they are supposed to be doing at that age is figuring out how the social world works,” she said.
But that can be a double-edged sword, making hurtful comments or taunting feel like a disaster.
Englander said there isn’t necessarily more bullying in the age of social media, but its character has changed in some important ways, she said.
“Digital technology alters how people communicate with each other and some of those changes, if you’re not aware of them, can lead to conflict,” Englander said.
She gave the example of texting, which lacks the social cues of face-to-face interactions, such as facial expressions, tone of voice and body language.
“A lot of information is missing and not having that information can lead to misunderstandings,” she said.