MIAMI - The family of a 13-year-old south Florida girl shot and killed while riding a school bus with her younger sister says they forgive the alleged shooter, "but he has to pay for what he did," the victim's mother said Wednesday while addressing the media.
A 15-year-old boy was in juvenile detention Wednesday, charged with manslaughter after police say he took a gun out of a backpack and showed it to other students during the ride to school on Tuesday. Investigators say he fired it once in an apparent accident, striking Lourdes Guzman.
The girl, known as Jina to her family and friends and identified as Lourdes Guzman-DeJesus on her Facebook page, died later at a Miami hospital.
"How did it happen? How did he have it on him? How did nobody notice?" asked the girl's mother, who identifies herself on Facebook as Ady DeJesus. "I want answers myself."
DeJesus said her daughter wanted to be a lawyer, was responsible and good at school.
The boy was also charged with carrying a concealed weapon. He waived his right to appear in court Wednesday morning and will remain in a juvenile detention centre. He is not being identified by The Associated Press because of his age.
Messages left with juvenile division officials and the alleged shooter's mother were not immediately returned on Wednesday.
Police have not released additional information about the shooting. Miami-Dade Police spokeswoman Aida Fina-Milan said that based on the charges "it appears to have been an accident."
Eight other children, including Guzman's 7-year-old sister, were on the bus but were not harmed. Authorities took the children and the bus driver to a police station to be interviewed.
DeJesus said her 7-year-old daughter called her after the shooting.
"She just started screaming. And, then the bus driver started talking to me," DeJesus said.
Tuesday, the family issued a statement by the victim's mother describing the girl as "fun-loving, helpful, a happy girl."
"Feels like just yesterday I saw her running around in her Pamper, dancing and modeling for the camera," said the girl's mother, according to the statement. "Times and moments spent with Jina are memories I will cherish and keep in my heart forever."
The girl attended Palm Glades Preparatory Academy, a charter middle school. Her sister went to nearby Summerville Advantage Academy.
The teen suspect attended Somerset Academy, said Lynn Norman-Teck, a spokeswoman for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools.
"The principal walked into every classroom to gauge their energy," she said, adding that teachers were notified that all three schools made grief counsellors available to students.
Parents of students at the charter schools contract the private school bus to transport students. Phone messages left with a number listed on the side of the bus where the shooting happened were not returned.
The school bus operated by Yelimar & Portieles was not equipped with video surveillance equipment.
There are no records of the company with the state's Division of Corporations or the Better Business Bureau.
Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm, said one area of school bus safety that is weak in schools across the nation is driver training on behaviour management and crisis intervention.
"The drivers have one of the toughest jobs in education and they do it with the least amount of support," Trump said.
The vast majority of bus drivers do not receive training on building relationships with students and averting a crisis, he said.
"In general across the country they are grossly undertrained and under-supported in these areas," he said. "It's the exception, not the norm, to see that training in place."
The Florida Department of Education has state requirements to become a school bus driver, including a criminal background check, drug screening and 40 hours of pre-service training. There is no requirement specified on training for managing students who misbehave or act violently on a bus.
Associated Press writer Christine Armario contributed to this report.
- Crime & Justice