Local News

Thursday, Jan 09 2014 07:52 PM

Recovery continues a year after Taft school shooting

  1. 1 of 6

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    In this file photo, Bowe Cleveland, who suffered major injuries from a shotgun blast when authorities say fellow Taft Union High student Bryan Oliver entered his classroom and shot him, sits in attorney Daniel Rodriguez's office, where he released a written statement almost one year after the January 2013 shooting.

    click to expand click to collapse
  2. 2 of 6

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    According to attorney Daniel Rodriguez, Bowe Cleveland continues to suffer from physical as well as emotional wounds from the day almost one year ago when authorities say fellow Taft Union High student Bryan Oliver turned a shotgun on him and fired at their high school. Cleveland sustained major injuries and Oliver is in custody awaiting trial.

    click to expand click to collapse
  3. 3 of 6

    By Henry A. Barrios / The California

    Bowe Cleveland, the victim of the shooting at Taft Union High School almost one year ago, sits with his mother, Leah Cleveland, and attorney Daniel Rodriguez Thursday. Cleveland released a written statement almost one year after authorities said he was shot by fellow student Bryan Oliver at Taft Union High.

    click to expand click to collapse
  4. 4 of 6

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Bowe Cleveland, the victim of the shooting at Taft Union High School almost one year ago, manages a smile as he sits next to his mother, Leah, in attorney Daniel Rodriguez's office Thursday. According to attorney Daniel Rodriguez, Bowe Cleveland continues to suffer from physical as well as emotional wounds from the shooting.

    click to expand click to collapse
  5. 5 of 6

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Bryan Oliver, the teen accused of two counts of attempted murder in a shooting at Taft Union High School, is in Kern County Superior Court on Oct. 18, 2013, with his attorney.

    click to expand click to collapse
  6. 6 of 6

    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Students, parents and teachers started the school day with prayer at Taft Union High School when in January 2013 school reopened for the first time since the shooting that left one student critically injured. Some students wore T-shirts in support of injured teen Bowe Cleveland during this prayer time.

    click to expand click to collapse
BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

A year ago Friday Bryan Oliver, like many students at Taft Union High School, walked to school. Unlike his classmates, he carried a shotgun with him.

The decisions Oliver made that day -- about a month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn. -- brought throngs of law enforcement to the high school, terrorized students, left parents searching for answers, generated international media coverage and renewed discussion on gun laws.

A year later, the case is no closer to being resolved. Oliver's trial has been pushed back to May 12.

The most seriously injured of his victims is still recovering.

Bowe Cleveland, 16 at the time of the shooting, has undergone 22 surgeries. Lead pellets remain in his body and continue to cause problems. He was hospitalized for 14 days in October after doctors discovered a massive infection.

Then there's the mental trauma. Cleveland is unable to go out in public by himself. He sleeps no more than three hours at a time.

Neither has he returned to school. He's undertaken independent study and plans to complete the California High School Proficiency Examination and get his diploma this year.

But the events of that day continue to haunt him.

He was sitting in a classroom the morning of Jan. 10, 2013 when Oliver walked in. Authorities say Oliver opened fire, striking Cleveland in the chest. Another shot missed student Jacob Nichols.

Teacher Ryan Heber and campus supervisor Kim Fields persuaded the then-16-year-old Oliver to put the gun down. He was arrested shortly afterward.

Shotgun pellets grazed Heber, and several students suffered scrapes and bruises in their rush to escape the classroom, but Cleveland's injuries were by far the most severe. He spent the next few weeks in Kern Medical Center's intensive care unit.

In a written statement he handed out Thursday at the office of attorney Daniel Rodriguez, who is representing Cleveland and his family, the teen vowed to overcome the ordeal.

"I'm not going to let what was done to me keep me down," Cleveland wrote. "That's not who I am."

Cleveland and his mother, Leah Cleveland, thanked the community for its prayers and support as they met with reporters at a meeting set up by Rodriguez. The two sat behind a table in the attorney's Eye Street office. Bowe wore a T-shirt of his favorite superhero, Spiderman. His dream is to become a comic book writer.

Leah Cleveland, in a separate written statement, said it's been a long year of surgeries, infections and hospital stays.

She said, despite everything her son has been through, he has never complained.

"With God's help, he will find the strength to continue to pull through this," she wrote.

The Cleveland family is suing the Taft Union High School District. Rodriguez said there were several red flags regarding Oliver's behavior, and the district failed to take adequate precautions.

Rodriguez said one of those red flags, contained in a Kern County Sheriff's Office report, was that in February 2012 Oliver had threatened to blow up the school auditorium. Rodriguez said school officials were made aware of the threat but never reported it to law enforcement.

He said a gag order is in place regarding other documents detailing Oliver's past behavior and that he was unable to comment further.

Rodriguez added that, contrary to what Oliver's defense attorney has said, Cleveland never bullied Oliver.

"He's got the biggest heart and the smallest ego I've ever seen," he said.

Rodriguez said the Cleveland family is working to forgive Oliver. But right now, he said, the wounds are still too fresh.

Deputy Public Defender Paul Cadman, Oliver's attorney, said Thursday that while his client's situation has improved, it remains "terrible." Oliver is charged as an adult with two counts of attempted murder and three counts of assault with a gun on a person. He's being held without bail.

Cadman said the teen isn't getting enough to eat, isn't receiving proper schooling and is getting bullied.

He said the case would already be over if prosecutors had "properly" charged Oliver as a juvenile.

"The whole situation is a terrible tragedy," Cadman said, adding that he hopes Cleveland makes a full recovery.

The attorney has said Oliver was bullied every day at high school. According to testimony from Oliver's preliminary hearing, the teen told a school official he "snapped" as a result of the constant bullying.

Moving on

Taft Union High School has a normal day of classes planned for Friday; no memorial, no special acknowledgment of what took place a year ago.

"I think the school community and the general community has made every effort to move on, not to ignore what has happened, but to say, 'We can't let this define us,'" said district Superintendent Blanca Cavazos. "It's so contrary to who we are."

Instead, on Monday the district kicked off "Random Acts of Kindness Month" to last through January. Students, teachers and other staff will focus on building positive relationships and making sure everybody feels comfortable at school, Cavazos said.

What acts to perform, whether public or private, and how many, are up to each person.

An act can be as simple as leaving a message of thanks on someone's desk, or asking how someone's doing. Friday should be no different from another other day, Cavazos said.

"That's what we want," she said. "We want students to be here (and) be comfortable."

Have something to share? Comment on this story

Bakersfield.com Daily Deal!

Rep Your Max Fitness

Daily Deal

One Month of Physical Training for $40

Value
$80
% Off
50%
You Save
$40
0 Bought
Buy Now! See more deals