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BREAKING: Her son shot his way into an Indiana high school. Now she’s facing six felony charges

SERAPH School Safety

Mary York didn’t pull the trigger once Dec. 13 at Dennis Intermediate SchoolHer 14-year-old son did.

Yet, York, 43, sat inside the Wayne County Superior Court 1 courtroom on Friday afternoon. During an 18-minute initial hearing, Judge Charles Todd Jr. read seven charges, including six felonies, York faces as a result of her son’s actions that day. She also heard the possible penalties, her constitutional rights and the case’s next steps.

York’s situation is relatively rare in the United States, because parents or guardians of juveniles who discharge firearms at schools do not often face charges. In most cases, however, the juveniles obtain their weapons from their home, as did York’s son, whom The Pal-Item does not identify because of his age.

Prosecutor Mike Shipman filed the seven charges against York on Oct. 11, nearly 10 months after York’s son killed himself inside Dennis after shooting his way into the school through a glass exterior door. The charges, which include a Level 5 felony, five Level 6 felonies and a misdemeanor, are:

  • Dangerous control of a child for recklessly allowing her son to possess a handgun and rifle while aware there was a substantial risk of him committing a felony — murder or battery — and failing to make a reasonable effort to prevent the use of the firearms in the commission of a felony;
  • Neglect of a dependent by placing the dependent in a situation that endangers the dependent for failing to remove firearms from their South West 16th Street residence after her son threatened to kill students at Dennis and discharged a firearm inside her home;
  • Neglect of a dependent by depriving the dependent of necessary support for failing to remove a .45-caliber handgun from the home after her son threatened to kill students at Dennis;
  • Neglect of a dependent by depriving the dependent of necessary support for failing to provide counseling for her son because of his mental-health issues;
  • Neglect of a dependent by depriving dependent of necessary support for failing to reasonably supervise her son;
  • Neglect of a dependent by placing the dependent in a situation that endangers the dependent for failing to ensure her son was taking prescribed medications; and 
  • Criminal recklessness for recklessly or knowingly performing an act that created a substantial risk of bodily injury to Dennis students and staff because she allowed firearms in her residence after learning her son had threatened to kill students at Dennis and had discharged a handgun in her home.

According to the affidavit of probable cause used to charge York, her son was evaluated and treated during May 2018 for mental-health issues. At that time, he related thoughts of suicide and of going to Dennis to kill students he said had bullied him.

York told investigators she did not know about those thoughts although treatment records indicate she was informed, the affidavit said. York also allegedly pulled her son from inpatient treatment because of cost and allowed him to stop taking prescribed medication.

Although her son fired a handgun inside their then-home during October 2018, York allowed firearms inside a gun cabinet to remain in the home, the affidavit said. Her son made a video recording of himself breaking into the cabinet to obtain the firearms he took with him to Dennis.

Mary York turns herself in, her trial is scheduled

Mary York

Mary York (Photo: Supplied)

On Monday, Todd ruled there is probable cause for the charges, and he ordered an arrest warrant against York. That afternoon, she turned herself in at the Wayne County Jail and posted $750 to satisfy a $7,500 bond.

As she exited the courtroom Friday, York declined to speak with The Pal-Item about the charges. Likewise, Prosecutor Mike Shipman has also declined to answer Pal-Item questions about the active case and decision to charge York.

York learned Friday that her trial has initially been scheduled for Jan. 14.

After Shipman filed charges against York, The Pal-Item analyzed media reports about 40 instances from 2013 through 2019 that involved juveniles younger than 18 taking firearms to school and firing them. Reports in 24 of those cases indicated how the juvenile acquired the weapon. In 16 of those instances, the juvenile took the firearm(s) from a family member, including 14 from parents, one from an uncle and one from a great-grandmother.

Prosecutors only twice filed charges against parents because of the firearms.

Dale and Tamara Owens have been charged with fourth-degree contributing to the delinquency of a minor after their then-16-year-old son, Joshua Owen, fired a gun Feb. 14 at V. Sue Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. They face up to 18 months in prison, if convicted.

The situation somewhat parallels details described in the affidavit charging Mary York.

Authorities allege that Joshua Owen sent a text during March 2018 to a girlfriend indicating an inclination to carry out a school shooting. The girlfriend’s report precipitated a mental-health evaluation and investigation.

However, 11 months later, Owen took an unsecured handgun from the walk-in closet of his parents’ bedroom. At school, he attempted to shoot three students, but the gun did not initially fire. Owen then fired into the air. He is now charged with three counts of attempted murder, unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on school premises and unlawful possession of a handgun by a person younger than 19.

Shipman utilized Indiana’s child-access-prevention law for the most serious charge against York. The Level 5 felony accuses York of dangerous control of a child. A conviction on a Level 5 felony carries a three-year advisory sentence with a range of one to six years as established by the Indiana legislature.

Even when laws exist to combat juvenile access to firearms, they might not fit an incident’s circumstances. Inconsistencies exist among state laws, and possible penalties do not always satisfy advocates as an effective deterrent.

There’s also controversy about the access laws infringing up on gun-owner rights. While one side sees the laws as cutting risk of school shootings, suicides and accidental deaths, the other cites Second Amendment rights and sees the laws as an unwanted step toward confiscation of firearms.

Parents who are not charged criminally are not shielded from civil procedures. In multiple instances that The Pal-Item analyzed, parents are subjects of lawsuits from victims or victims’ families. The lawsuits generally charge that the parents were negligent with their children’s access to firearms and/or failed to adequately recognize the danger their children posed because of mental-health issues.

Like Mary York, those parents might sit in a courtroom. But, unlike York, they won’t listen to criminal charges against them, charges that if they lead to conviction, could result in jail time.

Mike Emery, Richmond Palladium-Item

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