WILLIAMSPORT, Pa., Reuters
The 14-year-old girl who allegedly shot a female classmate in a Roman Catholic school this week had recently clashed with school bullies over their treatment of an Asian girl, her lawyer said on Thursday.
Attorney George Lepley said eighth grade suspect Elizabeth Bush had been at odds with a group of students who harassed classroom outcasts at Bishop Neumann High School in Williamsport, a small city (192 km) northwest of Philadelphia.
Bush, the first female suspect in a recent rash of highly publicized U.S. school shootings, faces juvenile charges for allegedly walking up to 13-year-old Kimberly Marchese in a crowded cafeteria on Wednesday and shooting the girl in the shoulder with her father Gerald’s .22 caliber revolver.
Marchese was hospitalized overnight and released on Thursday.
Witnesses said Bush pointed the gun at her own head and said she wanted to kill herself during Wednesday’s drama before ninth grader Brent Paucke talked her into dropping the weapon.
On Thursday, while Bush was being kept under a suicide watch at a juvenile detention center, Lycoming County Judge William Kieser ordered the teenager to undergo a battery of psychological and social examinations, and tentatively set a juvenile court hearing for April 4.
Test results would help prosecutors decide whether to seek permission to try her as an adult defendant who could face up to 40 years in prison if convicted.
But her attorney sought to cast the young suspect as an idealist who decorated her bedroom with posters of Christ and slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
“My client is someone who has vehemently championed the cause of the underdog,” Lepley told Reuters, saying several parents have since stepped forward to say Bush helped their children while they were being harassed by school cliques.
He said the adoptive parents of an Asian girl maintain that Marchese belonged to such a group.
“Their child, who was of an ethnic minority, was being harassed.
Notes were being written with racial slurs, and my client was trying to defend and befriend her, to the detriment of a clique of people who may have included the victim,” Lepley said in an interview.
“There’s clearly been a long-standing problem with these two which seems to have been continued in part by the victim.”
At a news conference earlier in the day, the father of the shooting victim denied that his daughter had been feuding with Bush.
“They said there was a conflict between the shooter and my daughter.
I don’t think that’s true,” retired Williamsport firefighter Michael Marchese said.