Overland Park 13-year-old who pointed finger gun might avoid original felony charge

The 13-year-old Overland Park girl who was arrested for pointing a finger gun at classmates has a chance of entering a diversion program to address her behavior instead of facing juvenile detention for a felony.

In her bright pink sweater, the bespectacled girl entered the Johnson County courtroom on Tuesday morning, clinging tightly to her grandfather’s hand. The two sat together in the front row next to a big red wagon full of colorful stuffed toys.

Before a Juvenile Division judge, prosecutors and the girl’s lawyer discussed the possibility of the girl participating in a program that would allow her to avoid a felony charge. They agreed to return to court on Dec. 17.

“I’m very satisfied with the results of the hearing this morning,” Jon Cavanaugh, the girl’s grandfather, told The Star. “It provides us with a way to move forward and resolve this matter to everyone’s satisfaction. I’m now looking ahead to returning home with my granddaughter, getting her started at her new school and, quite frankly, getting a good night’s sleep for the first time in a couple of weeks.”

The girl has lived with her grandfather in California since the incident Sept. 18 at Westridge Middle School. Her parents had been in the process of moving the family to Norway when she was arrested and had already sold their home, the girl’s attorney, Stephen Johnson, told the judge. She stayed behind in the U.S. to appear in court, with her grandpa and an aunt.

Her mother, Vanessa McCaron, last week told The Star that a boy in her daughter’s eighth-grade class at the Shawnee Mission district school had asked her, if you could kill five people in this class who would they be? The girl formed a gun with her fingers and pointed at four other students one at a time, and then turned the pretend weapon toward herself.

Officials learned of incident through the school’s bully reporting tip line, police said.

She was arrested and charged with felony threatening. Police said she was led out of the school by Principal Jeremy McDonnell. School resource officer Dana Harrison, who is an employee of the police department, handcuffed her outside the building and placed her in a police car before she was driven to a juvenile detention facility.

The Star does not identify juveniles charged with crimes.

The story has gone viral since The Star’s initial report, with most commenters saying the punishment is too harsh.

Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez confirmed McCaron’s facts, but also said there’s more he could not disclose. He supports his officer’s decision to arrest the girl, saying schools need to be vigilant looking for signs of potential violence.

According to court documents, the girl “unlawfully and feloniously communicated a threat to commit violence, with the intent to place another, in fear, or with the intent to cause the evacuation, lock down or disruption in regular, ongoing activities …” or created just the risk of causing such fear.

Her mother told The Star that the girl had been bullied for months by some of the classmates who provoked the incident. One time she was punched in the face on a school bus; another time she was left sobbing in the lunchroom, her mother said.

Shawnee Mission school district officials have declined to discuss details of the incident, citing student privacy laws. But David Smith, a district spokesman, said that in general, pointing a finger pistol might violate the district’s policy against intimidation and bullying.

Last month two 13-year-old students at Shawnee Mission’s Hocker Grove Middle School showed up with real guns in their backpacks. Both were charged as juveniles in possession of a firearm, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $2,500 or both.

The principal of Hocker Grove said there was no evidence suggesting the teens had planned to use the guns at school. Possession is a felony only if a kid commits the same crime a second time.

According to district policy, having a gun at school results in expulsion for up to 186 days, but it wasn’t clear how the two students were disciplined.

Threatening is a felony.

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said last week that the charge would probably not result in the girl spending time in juvenile detention, because she would likely be eligible for a program that carries more lenient penalties.

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Mará has written on all things education for The Star for 20 years, including issues of school safety, teen suicide, universal pre-K programs, college costs, campus protests and university branding.