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IamA John Bowman - Father of one of the youngest school shooting victims - Amina Kocer-Bowman. AMA!

Aug 4th 2014 by jbow808 • 41 Questions • 724 Points

On February 22, 2012 my daughter, Amina, was shot when a classmate reached into his backpack (that contained a .45 caliber handgun stolen from his biological mother's boyfriend) to show another student the weapon. The student told authorities that he brought the gun to protect himself from bullies (he was suspended from school the previous week for fighting).

Amina suffered life threatening injuries requiring 5 surgeries. Injuries include a severed inferior vena cava (the vein that carries deoxygenated blood from the upper half of the body to the heart's right atrium), she also had her spleen removed, damage to her liver and small intestine, a fractured elbow which has a titanium plate (this is where the bullet entered, and likely saved her life). The bullet remains lodged in her back, just millimeters away from her spine. She spend 6 weeks in the ICU and was on a feeding tube for about 3 weeks.

CNN Article

Today Show

Settlement

My Proof: : Submitted to Moderators for review. Sent a link to my facebook account, but that doesn't count for verification.. Sending an other form of verification.

I will try to answer all questions as they come.. I have nothing to hide.

Edit: Well It's 3:30 am here and I'm pretty sure more questions will pop-up. I'll be back to answer them as they come. Thanks for listening to my story!

Q:

Could you do a rundown on what was happening when you heard the news? What was happening before, during, and around that time?

A:

The day of the shooting, I walked my daughter and her best friend at the time to school. (We only lived 5 houses away) . Little did I know when i hugged her as we rounded the corner to the school that i could have been the last time i could even tell my little monkey that i loved her. (edited a word)

The shooting occurred on a Wednesday (which are an early release day) and I normally took a later ferry to go the the University of Washington (were I was a student) and took classes at night so that I could spend the morning with my kids and work my part-time job at the VA. On this particular day I think I had a mid-term or something and decided to go to the campus early so i had my wife drop me off at the Bremerton Ferry Terminal at about 1:25 pm. As she was pulling away my wife's phone started ringing

At about 1:30 just as i was walking on the ferry, my wife told me that a shooting had occurred in our daughter's class, but she didn't know anything else. I started walking the 2 miles home with no idea what was occurring other than the fact every emergency vehicle in the city was headed towards the school and helicopters were circling my neighborhood. I tried calling my wife be her phone was busy the whole time

I had walked about a 1/2 mile when my neighbor called to tell me that my daughter, Amina, was shot and that she was being transported to the hospital, I almost broke down and cried.

I was in the middle of "nowhere" and had no way to get home, luckily i saw a guy about my age with a toddler coming out of the Post Office. The man asked why were a bunch of helicopter's flying around. I explained that there was a shooting in my daughters class room and asked for a ride. We took off down the street going about 60 in a 35!

When I got to my neighborhood, the roads were filled with anxious parents and emergency vechicles. My wife was requesting confirmation from the Fire Chief that it was our daughter who was transported to the hospital. 2 minutes after I arrived the Fire Chief broke the news and news camera's started appearing out of nowhere as my wifre and son started crying.

We raced to the local hospital and saw Amina's tiny body laying in the operatory, it seemed like the whole hospital was there to try to stabilize her. We were met by her teach who told us how she performed first aid and stopped the bleeding from her abdomen.

We arrived at the hospital just minutes before she was life flighted to Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle (about 15 miles away) and said good-bye and that she's a Bowman and Bowman's never give up.

Then we raced to our house about a mile away and grabbed a bag of of clothing, knowing that we would be in the hospital of a while and hoped that we would be able to catch the ferry which was scheduled to depart. I was on the phone trying to get the ferry held, while driving like a mad man to the ferry terminal.

That ferry ride was the longest hour of my life, but when we arrived at the hospital were we told that Amina had just gotten out of surgery and that they were trying to stop the bleeding but couldn't. We were just happy to have another chance to see her and not have to say good-bye.

Later that evening, following her second surgery which stabilized her condition, our friends and family started arriving.


Q:

Do you still keep in contact with the guy who drove you back to your neighborhood?

A:

I wish i could find him and give him a big bro hug.. he was a life saver.


Q:

How difficult was it to decide to take action against the school district?

A:

The decision to sue the school district was very difficult.... We consulted with family and our neighbors before deciding to take action. We knew that there would be some negative backlash and threats because of the lawsuit, and that we would likely lose friends over it. We've been called everything in the book.. money hungry, ghetto lottery winners, questions about our citizenship status had come up.. someone even suggested that our daughter should be raped by a member of the Catholic church, as we enrolled her into a private school following the shooting.

The tipping point was my medical insurer sending a letter stating that we needed to pay almost $400,000 in medical bills following her discharge from the hospital.

We still don't fell good about having to sue the school district, however since the shooting the school district took the position that the shooting was an accident rather than the direct result of bullying. The continue to take that position to this day and to my knowledge has not changed the way the deal with bullying.


Q:

$400,000? Holy crap! That's absurd! Is there any financial aid for victims of these tragedies? Do you have any help with your bills?

A:

The WA State Crime Victims fund would have paid $50,000, but they were payers of last resort. Meaning they would have paid only if i had no other recourse.

The community also held a few fundraisers, but the efforts were far short of the $400,000 (later ballooned to $500,000).

Going back to the fundraising, a lot of community members were very vocal about us ripping them off and wanted refunds for their donation. I been told not to disclose the amount raised, by the trustee, but I can say we are very humbled that the community rallied around our daughter and that we didn't mismanage any of the fund.


Q:

Why did they think you had ripped them off after they already donated the money?

A:

Some people view a lawsuit against the school as a lawsuit against the tax payers. We also had family friends telling people that we were using the money inappropriately.

The only purchase made with donated funds, approved by the funds trustee, was a down payment for a new vehicle, that we made the monthly payments on until it was totaled about a year ago in a car accident.

At the time, we had a 10 year old car that had transmission problems and needed to shuttle Amina to up to 7 appointments a week and to specialist in various cities of Puget Sound. Her trustee felt that the purchase was justified.


Q:

someone even suggested that our daughter should be raped by a member of the Catholic church

That left me speechless. How can anyone say that about a kid? To her parents, who almost lost her? How absolutely awful. I'm so sorry you've had to deal with that.

A:

It's funny what people say anonymously on message boards.


Q:

But you said you where retired military...wouldn't tricare cover the medical costs?

A:

Tricare was the one who sent the letter.


Q:

As a tax payer in Washington I am glad to hear that the school paid you guys something.I have no problems that my taxes go to help for innocent victims of crime. From what I have heard in the news have horrified me and I have a feeling you weren't gonna get much from the patents. I thought I heard the boyfriend of the mom was charged for not properly securing his fire arm or something like that. This happened awhile ago so my facts may not be straight But alot of us Washingtonians have been praying for your daughter and your family...

A:

I may be wrong but the money comes from a risk pool the insurance company holds and not the tax payers or the schools general fund. This was one of the questions we asked before filing the lawsuit, we are part of the community too and didn't want our taxes our our neighbors taxes to skyrocket.

Sadly the WA Supreme Court says that the gun owner did not break the law by leaving his guns unsecured. Keep in mind that this is also the same state where the courts have ruled that public schools has no responsibility for the safety of your children if another student poses a danger to the general school population Kok V. Tacoma School District. Parents and taxpayers need to speak up so that those guys in Olympia will listen.


Q:

Would you consider a service dog for Amina? I don't know what her current medical needs are but I know dogs can help with PTSD symptoms. If you'd like I can PM you info about a couple of organizations.

PTSD is so much harder in my own perceptions than the medical side of trauma. My body healed but my mind may never do so completely. I hope all the best for your dear daughter and hope every day gets a little brighter and better :)

A:

Thank you! Amina has a 7 year old Lab and she has been instrumental in her recovery.


Q:

How do you even begin to deal with a situation like this? Is it all that is on your mind now? Is there any sense of "normal" now that it is redefined?

A:

To be honest, it's been difficult. You kind of question if your a good parent for sending your kid to school that has issues like this. After Sandy Hook, I took the day off from work and pulled my son and daughter out of school just to hug them and let them know how much they mean to me.

For a long time this was all that was on my mind, whenever a school shooting occurred my wife would call me and tell me about it and I would get pissed over how much media attention was given to the shooter and not the victim.

Over the last 2 years I been seeing a therapist for PTSD and Anxiety, I was recently discharged from the Navy (Reserves) for PTSD because I could not deploy to Afghanistan. Since then I have taken a job in another state and moved my family to help us heal.

Since moving a month ago, I've noticed that my daughter looks happier and now plays outside, prior to moving she was a recluse and hid in her room. My wife is a lot less stressed about having random people come up to her in the supermarket or the bank and asking her how our daughter is doing, sometimes they even ask how the shooter is doing!


Q:

Would she be able to have a surrogate carry her child?

A:

That possibility has been discussed, but we've been told that even that might have complications.


Q:

My team and I have been mulling over several possibilities.

Could you clarify what this team is?

A:

I am working with several lawyers, state representatives, and education experts.. I am not at liberty to disclose names, but they have lots of experiences with school shootings and bullying cases.


Q:

Hey John, glad to see youre still around. Hadnt heard much from you after you left CPF-0322.

Where are you at these days?

Glad to hear Amina is still hanging in there.

A:

Thanks T! Living in Montana and getting my cowboy on..LOL!


Q:

What's life like for you now?

A:

Life is slowly returning to normal. I took a job out of state after being laid off right before Christmas last year and this has taken a ton of stress away from my wife and kids. We've moved from a suburban area with about 250,000 people to a very rural town with about 9,000 people are are trying to adjust to small town living.

We are looking to draft anti-bullying legislation that would hold schools accountable for failing to report bullying incidents or inform parents that their child is having an issue with bullies at school.


Q:

What were the consequences for the shooter?

A:

One year probation and suspension from school, 24-hours of court mandated counseling, and he had to write a letter of apology, which was obviously dictated or written for him by a therapist. After his probation hearing all charges were dropped.


Q:

What was the letter like?

A:

Letter of Apology This was obtained by the media and posted on the internet before we received the original copy from the prosecutors office.


Q:

I have a question about your settlement. How much did your family actually receive at the end of the day, after fees, taxes, etc. ? And do you feel its "enough" ? Not whether it was the right amount or appropriate for what occurred, but enough to meet your families needs as a result of the incident. I really hope so.

A:

After attorney fees and medical expenses, roughly 630K.. all funds are being placed into a trust account with a major bank.

We have a team of people looking after her finances and trust fund and plan on using the fund only if needed for educational and medical expenses.

I make pretty good money ~90K a year/ pre-tax, but my wife and I along with our lawyers and her court appointed guardian felt that it was better to settle for a guaranteed dollar amount, rather then go to trail and roll the dice with a jury that would take weeks or months to deliberate and get nothing.

Personally my wife and I would have wanted more for Amina to ensure her future in the event some major medical event happens to her and she couldn't work or take care of herself, because that possibility still does remain.


Q:

Favorite burger place?

A:

Jack in the box, but only is an in-n-out isn't nearby!


Q:

Traitor.

Dicks.

A:

LOL... totally forgot about Dicks. Haven't been there in a long time, but for the record that was Amina's first meal after we got the feeding tube removed.. Dick's deluxe with fries and a Chocolate Shake at the Cap Hill Location.


Q:

What are your views on semi-automatic weapons?

A:

I actually was in the Navy for 19 years ( I was medically retired for PTSD). During my career I worked as a fire arms instructor and taught weapon safety to over 3,000 sailors.

I believe in the right to bear arms, but also believe that it is the individuals responsibility to protect weapons from unauthorized use (including being stolen).

That said, the whole concept that nobody has taken criminal responsibility for the shooting - the kid got a year probation then all charges were dropped, the gunner own appealed the charge (which my wife and I feel was the wrong charge anyway) and the case was dismissed by the WA State Supreme Court a few weeks ago.


Q:

How old is your daughter now, and how old was she when this tragedy occurred?

A:

Amina is now 11. she was about 3 weeks shy of her 9th birthday when she was shot.


Q:

I'm so sorry this happened to her. I noticed in the $1.2 million dollar settlement, the bulk of that was paid by the Bremerton school district. Can you tell me the rationale behind finding fault with the school district? What do you think they should have done differently?

A:

Shooter had a history of violence and getting into fights. He was suspended the week prior to the shooting and had told several students he planned on bringing a gun to school. Also in the weeks previous to the shooting an other student in the classroom attempted to bring knifes to school, school was informed but did not alert parents to this fact.

School district claims no liability for the incident and still has not issued an apology.


Q:

I know you said your daughter 'became a recluse' after the shooting- Can you elaborate a bit more on how she perceived the whole incident? Did you have to explain to her that it was an accident or have to explain other difficult subjects?

Did she retain her friendships well throughout her recovery (which I understand is necessarily on-going) and "after"?

Was July 4th difficult, or have you had any issues with television/movies depicting mild violence?

I can't even begin to imagine the pain your family has had thrust upon you all. I'm glad to hear you have experienced some headway since your move!

A:

Before the shooting she used to play basketball and ride her bike alot. Amina also liked hanging out with her friends in the neighborhood and was a really silly kid. After the shooting she stayed in the house and took to watching movies and hanging out with her mom. She's told us she was afraid of getting hurt again and that's why she likes to stay inside. In the last few months she's made some progress, we got her to take swimming lessons, she rides her bike in front of our new house and walks to the corner story to get ice cream.

As for friendships, she's had a difficult time maintaining them, she's always been shy and making friends is hard for shy kids, even more-so now when kids and parents gawk at her.

On the fourth of July she doesn't mind organized displays, in fact she enjoys them now. Random booms are more worrisome, so we bought her a pair of headphones that they use for shooting ranges for her protection.


Q:

What happened to the boy that had the gun?


Q:

How do you feel about that? It sounds like the boy had some serious problems with his home life and possibly some serious issues otherwise (crying wolf, etc). Do you think that he's a danger to society, now or in the future?

A:

This is my opinion and it might not be too popular, but if you can't overcome your circumstances then you'll adapt to your environment.


Q:

I live in Seattle and the news report on the case this week has included a statement that Amina could possibly use the money to adopt a child later in life, noting that it would be required if she wishes to have children. This seemed really strange and a bit crass to my ears, what is your opinion of this statement and it having been repeated many times at least on local radio?

A:

The fact we may never have a grandchild from Amina, deeply troubles my wife and I.

In fact when we heard the news, it was devastating considering that we had just had another child and we knew that Amina was robbed of the choice of having children.

A lot of people comment about how good she looks, however we felt it was necessary to talk about the long-term consequences of her injuries.


Q:

I actually grew up in the neighborhood (family still lives there) and couldn't believe what happened to your little girl.

Question. Do you feel safe around here still? Do y ou think your daughter will ever feel comfortable going back to school?

A:

We moved about a month ago.. took a job out of state in February, after getting laid off right before Christmas.

One of the reasons we moved is because she was constantly reminded of the incident - we lived 5 houses from the school. Amina loves school and looks forward to going everyday, though it is difficult for her to get out of bed sometimes because of the trouble she has sleeping at night.


Q:

I hope the change of scenery helps her even a little bit. It seems like it would. Constantly being reminded of a traumatic event definitely doesn't help you heal. I'm sure it's hard enough for her without having to return to the place everyday.

I suffer from anxiety, so I know how debilitating it can be. Plus, insomnia not only makes you feel general awful from lack of sleep, but it's also pretty stressful and frustrating because you want to sleep so badly. Its really tough. She can get through this, though. She's obviously a strong girl. Best of luck to her and your family.

A:

Thank you for the kind words!


Q:

After transferring to her new school, did your daughter need to make new ones, or was she also able to keep in touch with her old friends before the shooting incident?

A:

Sadly Amina and her friends in the neighborhood drifted apart, mostly due to going to different schools and having different social schedules.

At her new school she made several friends and had occasional play dates/ and birthday party invites, all the parents at her new school were aware of her situation and were respectful of her boundaries.

Unfortunately we've moved to a new area and she has to start the process all over again, we done our part to get her involved including getting more involved with the church community and trying to introduce her to new kids. We actually are planning a visit to her new school tomorrow.


Q:

Do you have any angst towards the shooter?

A:

Yes and no.. Clearly he's a child and he doesn't have any physical restrictions. Hell one day he may even brag about getting away with what he did, because kids are dumb like that.

I blame the adults in his life, for teaching him that violence is the key to solving problems .. his family has been in the news for criminal activity, the gun owner (his mother's boyfriend) was acquitted of murder.. To top it off no criminal charges have been filed against the gun owner after he successfully appealed the assault charge in the WA State Supreme Court.

It pisses me off to no end thinking they really have no consequences for their actions.


Q:

How have you changed since the event?

A:

Following the shooting I was angry a lot! I was diagnosed with PTSD a few months prior to the shooting and went off my medication. I wanted to do terrible things and contemplated suicide on more than one occasion. The shooting coupled with my inability to find a job were just too much to handle, yet I put on a happy face to hid my anger.

Since then I learned who I am and how to manage my illness. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and got off my ass to do something about my situation.

I now have an awesome job, that I enjoy very much and have become a better father. I talk to my children and listen to what they say. I notice when things aren't quite right and try to figure out how to help them cope or deal with their problem.


Q:

Can you say why your daughter might not be able to have children?

A:

She suffered extensive damage to her superior vena cava, the vien in our body responsible for returning blood to the heart form the legs. It was cut and fused to stop the enormous amount of bleeding (she needed 30 units of blood, the human body has 10-12 units). Since she is young the body naturally develops other ways to return blood to the heart but with up to 65% reduced flow.

Carrying a fetus puts tremendous strain on a woman's body and good blood flow is needed to develop a health fetus.

She also has the bullet in her back, just millimeters from the nerves in the spine, too much pressure or strain on the back could cause paralysis.


Q:

Does the damage to the vessel restrict the amount of physical activity/labor she can do? For instance, does she need to be careful with intense cardiovascular exercise?

A:

Yes, she used to be able to run and play basketball... now a mile walk is pretty difficult.


Q:

I'm a little late... My question is, do you feel the shooter should've been held more responsible than he was? And he was only suspended?!? He should've been expelled.

A:

He was expelled, however i don't think it was for the full year that was required.


Q:

I am a bit confused at the situation in the classroom. Is it known exactly what the shooter was doing? Showing off the gun or was he trying to potentially scare a "bully"?

What was your Daughter doing in the classroom when the invident ocurred?

What was the first thing that went through your mind when you got the news?

Sorry if I happen to touch a touchy part of the incident, I hope your daughter has a bright future, and I pray for your family.

A:

The shooting occurred about a minute or 2 before the dismissal bell rang.

My daughter sat next to the shooter, because she was the smart/ quite kid in class and he was a little bit of a problem child, so the teacher wanted him next to her so he wouldn't disrupt the class.

Details are a little sketchy because it was all derived from police statements made by the kids following the shooting, but what likely happened was he was going to pull out the gun to show it to a friend.. .coincidentally that student transferred schools within the week. Another theory is that he was going to shoot the teacher, because he disagreed with the way he was being treated.

Of course we will never know the real story since the boy lied in his depositions and changed his story several times to the police, bullying was never discussed under he had a lawyer.


Q:

"Bullying was never discussed until he had a lawyer"

So then why is your focal point about increasing awareness for anti bullying? Do you really truly feel like bullying is the root cause of your daughter's injury?

A:

Yes... Many signs point to the fact he was bullied, including the school withholding the student's disciplinary records and behavior plan. Why would they fight so hard to hide evidence and make us sign a non-disclosure agreement and gag order if they didn't have something to hide.


Q:

How do you feel about gun laws?

A:

We have enough gun laws in place at the state and federal level.. they just need to be enforced!


Q:

Serious question: I was reading further down you still support the right to bear arms, and hold no grudges to want guns banned or what not, will you ever teach your daughter to shoot or let her make that decision?

Best of luck for your guyses future endeavors.

A:

That is going to be something Amina will have to decide. We live in Montana where hunting is the norm and young kids go to wal-mart with thier days to pick up ammo for the .22.


Q:

How do you handle her not having a spleen? Does the fact that the bullet is still inside of her raise worries of infection? I know people without spleens have it much harder dealing with the flu, pneumonia and other diseases.

A:

We are very careful and monitor her health closely. My wife is in the health care field (Medical Assistant) and she keeps a retty close eye on Amina.


Q:

Have you ever talked to the shooter/parents of that child? What did they say?

A:

No.. I'm pretty sure the outcome wouldn't be very pleasant.


Q:

What where your initially thought when you found out what had happened, and what were your first instinctive thoughts regarding your actions against others?

A:

The first question I asked the doctors was what type of gun she was shot with. When I heard she took a 45 at close range my heart sank and honestly didn't think my daughter was going to live.

All I thought was I went to effing Iraq and survived, my daughter went to school and died, how the eff is that fair.

Inside I was numb for days, i didn't sleep are eat and the nurses had to kick us out of the hospital. I was so busy thinking about my daughter i really didn't have time to be pissed off at anyone.