BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The mother of Taft Union High shooting victim Bowe Cleveland said he's steadily improved and has been transferred out of Kern Medical Center's intensive care unit with the hope that he'll be well enough to travel home in a week or so.
The 16-year-old faces a long road to recovery. His body is filled with shotgun pellets, and months of physical and psychological therapy are ahead.
But Leah Cleveland said a milestone was reached earlier this week when Bowe was able to speak to her for the first time since he was shot at school.
He told his mother he loved her.
"Oh my gosh, I'll never take his voice for granted," Cleveland said Wednesday. "When he first opened his eyes it was like giving birth again."
When he gathered more strength, Bowe told her he remembered everything that happened before the Jan. 10 shooting, including hearing what sounded like a gunshot, Cleveland said. Some students hit the floor, Bowe stood up, was shot and collapsed.
"He remembers after he was shot that every time he took a breath blood was squirting out of his lungs," Cleveland said.
He also remembers the extreme pain he was in, and the ambulance and helicopter rides that brought him to the hospital. The teen wondered if he was dreaming.
Cleveland spoke while seated next to attorney Daniel Rodriguez, who filed a claim against the Taft Union High School District on Wednesday alleging district officials knew, or reasonably should have known, that student Bryan Oliver was dangerous, threatening and likely to commit a violent act. The district failed to take adequate precautions in connection with the dangers Oliver presented, the claim says. Oliver has been criminally charged in the shooting.
Both Cleveland and Rodriguez declined to answer questions about Oliver. They were adamant, however, that Bowe is not a bully, as some have claimed.
Rodriguez said Bowe, in fact, has been the victim of bullying in the past and was beaten so badly in seventh grade that he suffered a concussion. At 6 feet 4 inches tall and about 300 pounds, Bowe is the kind of person who some people target for a fight to prove how tough they are, Rodriguez said.
The teen's size has brought him a lot of misery, but it's also partly responsible for his surviving the shooting. Rodriguez said doctors told the family that Bowe's youth and size enabled him to survive so much blood loss.
Rodriguez said the family has one response for people accusing Bowe of bullying: "We're going to pray for you, and let's hope you never, ever, have to walk in our shoes."
Cleveland said Bowe doesn't judge anyone, and makes a point of not even playing rough with friends because of his size. He's outgoing and has no problem dancing or talking in front of a crowd.
He doesn't care about being cool, Cleveland said.
"He's large, but he's larger than life in personality," she said.
Cleveland was putting her contact lenses in and preparing to go to the gym when she received a call from a school official saying her son was injured and she needed to get there immediately. She didn't know what had happened, and figured Bowe had fallen or accidentally cut himself.
She drove to the school and saw a line of ambulances and police cruisers and realized something serious had happened. She frantically ran from her car -- with the keys still in the ignition -- to the front of the school.
"At that point I lost my mind," Cleveland said.
An officer grabbed her and told her that Bowe was "gone." She thought by gone he meant dead, not that he'd been taken away by ambulance.
She eventually came to understand that her son was still alive, and she was rushed to the hospital to join him. That first week she never ruled out the possibility that he might die.
Doctors told her that although Bowe couldn't respond, he could hear. So she allowed any student who wanted to see him to come in and talk to him.
Droves of students came to wish Bowe and the family well.
"The kids got me through," Cleveland said.
Rodriguez said he filed the claim to gain access to school records regarding a "hit list" that Oliver allegedly created targeting 30 students sometime before the Jan. 10 shooting. Rodriguez said he has repeatedly been told about the hit list, and that in the past Oliver threatened specific students, and told one he was going to kill and eat their pets.
"If you have a zero tolerance policy and a student is threatening violence, why didn't they kick him out?" Rodriguez said.
Interim Superintendent William McDermott has said laws protecting student privacy and the pending criminal case against Oliver prohibit him from discussing disciplinary action against individual students.
The claim, which is filed as a precursor to a lawsuit, names school officials including McDermott, Principal Marilyn Brown and Assistant Principal Rona Angelo as being negligent in their supervision of and failing to take adequate precautions against Oliver.
Authorities have said that Oliver entered a classroom and shot Cleveland and fired at but missed student Jacob Nichols in an incident that quickly made international news. Cleveland suffered injuries to his abdomen and chest.
Shotgun pellets grazed teacher Ryan Heber, who, along with campus supervisor Kim Fields, convinced Oliver to drop the gun, authorities said. Oliver has pleaded not guilty to two counts of attempted murder and three counts of assault with a gun on a person.
His next court date is Feb. 20.