A trial expected to last several days gets underway with prosecution and defense lawyers disputing the then-12-year-old’s motivation for having a gun in the classroom.
TO READERS: An earlier version of this story and headline misidentified the person who prosecutors say helped a teacher wrestle a gun away from a student. It was a school counselor.
DAVENPORT, Ia. — The tension at North Scott Junior High that started when a seventh-grader wielded and tried to fire a gun in a full classroom didn’t subside until minutes later, after a wrestling match between the boy, his teacher and a guidance counselor, witnesses and a prosecutor said on Thursday.
Luke Andrews, then 12, told school staff the day of the incident that he “wanted to end it and anybody that got in my way,” said Julie Walton, an assistant Scott County attorney.
Andrews, now 13, is being tried as a youthful offender in adult court on charges including attempted murder, assault while displaying a dangerous weapon and carrying weapons on school grounds for the Aug. 31, 2018, incident at North Scott Junior High in Eldridge. Criminal complaints allege Andrews pulled a gun on his teacher in front of his classmates and attempted to fire.
Police said that the .22-caliber handgun was loaded with 11 rounds in the magazine and one round in the chamber, but that the safety was still on when Andrews pulled the trigger.
Andrews’ attorney said in her opening statement that bringing a gun into school was a “horrible decision” by Andrews.
But “what Luke did was attention-seeking behavior, not attempted murder,” attorney Meenakshi Brandt said. She asked the jury to “listen to what Luke knew about gun safety” and to pay attention to “indications of Luke’s behavior” before the incident, which she said would be explained in the coming days. The trial at the Scott County Courthouse is expected to last into next week.
“He was looking for attention. Any kind of attention. And he made a horrible decision,” Brandt said.
Andrews pleaded not guilty to all charges in January.
If a jury convicts him of attempted murder, Andrews would be held in Iowa’s juvenile justice system until he turns 18.
Witnesses recall chaos in hallway
On Thursday, witnesses who work at North Scott Junior High described a chaotic scene just after 8:30 a.m. that day. It was a Friday, the last day of the first week of school.
Walton, the prosecutor, said Andrews was a couple of minutes late to the first class of the day, after a school-wide assembly. He entered Room 29, Dawn Spring’s classroom, and pointed a gun at the students, she said. Walton said he quietly ordered them to the ground — a demand they ignored.
Once Spring turned and saw what was happening, Walton said, she approached him and positioned her body so that while the gun was pointed at her, it would be pointed away from the students. He pulled the trigger, but the gun didn’t fire, she said. Spring calmly asked to speak with him in the hallway and he followed her, still holding the gun, Walton said.
Michele Willet, a librarian and teacher at the middle school, testified that she was the first person to see Spring and Andrews in the hallway between the library and classroom. She said she saw them go near the guidance counselors’ offices and called for help.
The school’s seventh-grade counselor, Holly Leinhauser, said she heard somebody calling her first name from the hallway outside her office, which she “thought was really unusual because everyone would call me Miss Leinhauser.”
When entered the hallway, she said she saw Spring “struggling with” Andrews, who was sitting on the floor with his back against the wall. Leinhauser said Spring told her, “He has a gun.”
“I kind of went in to help take the gun and was not successful. I think it was my third attempt,” Leinhauser said. “I kind of put my shoulder and my hand into him using my knee to kind of hold his legs. … He was trying to not give it up.”
Trying to pry his fingers off the gun was an “intense struggle,” she testified. “He was pulling it and moving his fingers at the same time.”
Once she was able to take the gun from him, she said, she recalls hearing Andrews speak for the first time: “He screamed, ‘Don’t hold it like that. You’re going to make it go off.'”
Spring ran with the gun to the main office. The school resource police officer for North Scott Community Schools testified that Spring removed the magazine from the gun and put both inside a staff-only freezer.
On her way out of the main office, Spring ran into Erin Paysen, the associate principal. Paysen and principal John Hawley had already learned what had happened.
“She was shaking and talking fast and said, ‘Oh my God, Erin, he had a gun and he pulled the trigger.’ And I hugged her,” Paysen said.
Andrews said he wanted to ‘end it,’ counselor testifies
Andrews, now unarmed, wouldn’t go into the counseling office voluntarily at first, Leinhauser said. But he willingly entered when another staff member offered that the school’s service dog, Corwin, would greet him inside.
In the counseling office, Leinhauser said, she asked Andrews what his intent was in bringing a gun to school.
“He said, ‘To end it and to end anyone who got in his way’ — something to that degree,” she told jurors.
The counselor asked if he had been bullied. Andrews replied, “Nothing happened here at school, but not everybody has parents like I had,” she testified. She said she thought it was unusual that he referred to having parents in the past tense.
He also said he was unhappy about his punishment for getting in trouble at home the night before, saying he had been told to clean and vacuum the house, Leinhauser said. He was upset about that because he said his siblings helped make the mess, she explained.
Andrews told the counselor that he got the gun from a locked case for which he found the key, she said.
She asked him, “You got in trouble at home, and you brought a gun to school?”
In response, Andrews turned his body to face the wall of her office, she testified, and said, “Well, now that you said it out loud, it doesn’t make sense. I should have just did it at home.”
She said the entire exchange in the office felt like hours but was probably less than 20 minutes.
The day before the incident
Witnesses recalled several negative interactions with Andrews the day before the incident, on Aug. 30.
During lunchtime, in the cafeteria, Andrews asked another seventh-grader if she would tell anybody if he brought a gun to school, the girl testified. The Des Moines Register is not identifying children who testify in the trial.
“I was shocked. I just looked at him and said, ‘Are you serious?'” she said. Under cross-examination, she said she didn’t take it as a serious threat.
“Did you think he was just making a weird joke?” asked Brandt, the defense attorney.
“Yes,” the girl replied.
That same afternoon, Spring, the teacher, and Paysen, the associate principal, had a meeting with Andrews to confront him about how he had been using his Chromebook, a small laptop that students use for assignments.
Paysen said Spring had concerns about how he was using the internet, including playing solitaire, looking at photos of guns, and other searches for “political stuff, and memes,” she said. The two explained to him the school’s policy, that Chromebooks only be used for school-related purposes.
For much of the meeting, he was barely engaged in the conversation, Paysen said. A referral related to the meeting would have been emailed to his parents the following day, Paysen explained.
Another classmate, 13, testified that she had a study hall period with Andrews at the end of the day. She said she could see what he was looking at on his Chromebook on the day before the incident.
“Just a picture of guns, and I believe that they were handguns,” she said.
The trial is expected to last into next week.
Shelby Fleig covers news and features for the Register. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 515-214-8933.
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