BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A judge ruled Tuesday there was sufficient evidence to try suspected school shooter Bryan Oliver on charges including attempted murder following a preliminary hearing that featured a chilling description of the shooting and discussion of whether merciless bullying played a role in his alleged actions.
The decision came after the testimony of several law enforcement officials, including a sheriff’s deputy who said Oliver told a school official he “snapped” as a result of bullying.
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Each official talked about interviews they conducted with people at the school who said Oliver was the shooter and that he had specific targets in mind.
Oliver, 16, has pleaded not guilty. He’s being tried as an adult.
Kern County District Attorney’s office investigator Herman Caldas compellingly recounted what shooting victim Bowe Cleveland told him about the Jan. 10 incident. Caldas described the shooting under questioning by prosecutor Marcus Cuper, who is handling the case with Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Pafford.
Cleveland, 16 at the time, had just completed a science class quiz and was standing up when he heard a loud boom, Caldas said. The teen briefly couldn’t hear anything after the blast, but he noticed lint from his jacket floating in the air.
He looked down and saw a wound to his chest. Then he looked up and saw Oliver at the front of the room holding a shotgun.
Caldas said Cleveland became lightheaded and fell to the floor. Blood spurted from his chest and he began experiencing difficulty breathing.
He yelled, “You shot me!” at Oliver.
“I know,” Oliver replied, according to what Caldas said Cleveland told him. Cleveland said Oliver smiled.
Cleveland began panicking, thinking he was going to die. He choked on blood, continued to experience trouble breathing and felt like he needed to sleep.
Caldas said Cleveland told him everything started going dark, and then there was a white light as he lost consciousness. Cleveland, now 17, endured several surgeries, and receives ongoing treatment for his injuries.
Caldas said he interviewed science teacher Ryan Heber, whose classroom was the site of the shooting. Caldas said Heber told Oliver, “I’ve always been good to you.”
“I know,” Oliver said, according to what Heber told Caldas. “I just want Nichols.”
Oliver was referring to student Jacob Nichols, whom he’s alleged to have shot at but missed.
Campus supervisor Kim Fields arrived at the classroom shortly afterward and convinced Oliver to place the shotgun against a wall. Oliver was arrested and has pleaded not guilty to two counts of attempted murder and three counts of assault with a gun on a person.
Cuper played a surveillance video from the high school that captured a person who Caldas said has been identified as Oliver walking onto campus holding what appears to be a shotgun in his hands. The video shows separate cameras that captured Oliver walking outside, entering a school building and then walking into the classroom where the shooting occurred.
There is no sound with the video, but a student runs from an adjacent classroom shortly after Oliver enters the room where Cleveland was shot.
Oliver looked far different Tuesday than during his first court appearance in January. He’s lost a lot of weight, and his face looked almost gaunt.
Kern County Superior Court Judge John S. Somers prohibited photography during Tuesday’s hearing. He said there was a significant risk that photographs would prejudice a jury if the case goes to trial.
Caldas testified that he found no evidence during his investigation that Oliver was bullied at school. Deputy Public Defender Paul Cadman, Oliver’s attorney, disagreed.
He said bullying is at the heart of the case.
Cadman had a few cutting remarks for Caldas, asking the former Bakersfield police detective if he’d suddenly become an expert on judging the demeanor of a person since being hired by the DA’s office. He asked if he was a psychologist or an expert on bullying.
Caldas answered no to each question but said he could tell what Oliver was going through by his demeanor. He didn’t elaborate on that comment.
“As part of what he was going through, didn’t you see that he was called a ‘ginger’ and a (homophobic slur) every day?” Cadman asked.
Caldas said he found no evidence of that, and he didn’t know what a “ginger” was. The term is a derogatory word for a person, like Oliver, with red hair.
Caldas said he interviewed a student who said that Oliver had shown her a “hit list” of 30 students that he intended to kill. Caldas said the student told him she was able to convince him to remove all of the names except the top two: Bowe Cleveland and Jacob Nichols.
Cadman asked Caldas who called the list of names a “hit list,” and Caldas said he first called it that and then the student used that term after he said it.
Another student interviewed by Caldas told him that Oliver said, a day before the shooting, that he had “a bad feeling about tomorrow.” Oliver then told the student not to go to school the next day.
Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Wahl, the next person called to the stand, said he responded to Taft High the day of the shooting and interviewed Fields, the campus supervisor. Fields said Oliver told him he’d been picked on and that he “had had enough.”
Cadman said after the hearing that he found it interesting a deputy said bullying was involved in this case while the prosecutor’s investigator — Caldas — knew nothing about it. The defense attorney said Oliver was bullied incessantly every day at school and that attempted murder is the wrong charge against him because he never intended to kill anyone.
“Some people snap,” Cadman said.
When asked what an appropriate charge would be, Cadman said to answer that question he’d have to submit a resume to the DA’s office and get hired there.
He said he’s going to provide Oliver the best defense he can.
Prosecutor Pafford said he couldn’t comment this early in the court proceedings.
Oliver is being held on $1.5 million bail. His next hearing is scheduled for July 31.