FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A 16-year-old student who was teased by his California high school classmates for his red hair, social awkwardness and bookish appearance was charged as an adult for allegedly wounding a classmate with a shotgun and trying to target another.
Bryan Oliver pleaded not guilty Monday to two counts of premeditated attempted murder and three counts of assault with a firearm in the attack Thursday at Taft Union High School that left another 16-year-old wounded.
"It was just the factors of the case," said Mark Pafford, the chief deputy district attorney of Kern County, about the decision to charge Oliver as an adult. "The severity of the actions, the injuries to the victim, that a firearm was used. Those are the things we considered."
The potential penalty for just one count of premeditated attempted murder with a firearm is 32 years to life, Pafford said. If he had been charged as a juvenile and convicted, he would be held until his 23rd birthday.
Defense attorney David Torres said in court that Oliver did not waive his right to change his plea in the future.
Oliver had been bullied by the two classmates he allegedly targeted, according to a witness who knows the teen.
"They called him a 'ginger' and said gingers don't have souls," said Morgan Alldredge, a friend of both Oliver and one of the targets, who was in the classroom during the shooting. "I was his friend. I don't know why people picked on him. He was misunderstood."
A next-door-neighbor whose son tutored Oliver in college prep classes described him as a "genius" who was relentlessly bullied by other students in the remote San Joaquin Valley town surrounded by tumbleweed-covered oil fields. Others told The Associated Press that he further ostracized himself by making inappropriate statements, almost for shock value.
On Thursday morning, witnesses say, Oliver walked into a science classroom just as his classmates were finishing an oceanography test and quickly fired one round from a Winchester 12-guage shotgun, striking a 16-year-old student athlete in the chest. He sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
Alldredge said that as chaos erupted, teacher Ryan Heber pulled out his cellphone, discretely dialed a number and said "Bryan don't shoot." She thinks he was alerting someone about the crisis.
A second round was fired at students trying to flee, but no one was struck. Alldredge said Oliver then spoke his first words: "All I want is Jacob," referring to Alldredge's ex-boyfriend, whom she said had teased the suspect in the past.
The witness said Heber talked Oliver into dropping the weapon, and campus security administrator Kim Fields grabbed the student in a bear hug.
Heber was struck by a stray pellet on the forehead, but didn't realize he had been slightly injured until later when investigators pointed it out to him. The wound accounts for one of the charges against Oliver.
Investigators have declined to comment on allegations made by many students that Oliver had been suspended from the school last year for allegedly making a hit list of students he wished to harm.
Alldredge said she is at a loss to explain why some students at the school bullied the teen that she tried to befriend.
"They were just total jerks to him," she said. "I just don't know why he was so misunderstood. I was his friend."
Oliver often walked the hallways of the school alone, she said. He read books such as those by Tom Clancy. Most recently she saw him reading "Eragon," the story of a young boy who finds a stone that turns out to be a dragon egg. The boy and his dragon eventually flee their hometown to search for rebels to overthrown the evil king.