BREMERTON, Wash. - Two years ago Saturday, a third grader took a gun to his Bremerton school and another third grader, Amina Bowman, was shot and nearly died. Two years later and there are still too few answers for parents who want to know how such a thing could happen in the safety of a classroom.
Now Amina Bowman's family wants others to know that while their little girl survived, she still faces a lifetime of challenges.
For those of us on the outside, what we remember is the applause on the day Amina walked out of the hospital under her own steam. We think of a brave 8-year-old defying the odds in surviving a gunshot wound that is usually fatal.
But the memories Amina and her family can't escape are the life and death struggle in the hospital, five surgeries, and the emotional trauma that persists. Outwardly, Amina appears recovered, but her parents - Teri and John Bowman - know she faces a lifetime of physical limitations and emotional wounds.
"Mostly she's afraid," says mom Teri, "she's afraid of a lot of things." The little girl with the shy smile and sly sense of humor doesn't play outside, doesn't ride her bike, still wants to sleep with her parents and struggles each morning just to go to school. "She's just fearful, and that's not the Amina that we had...two years ago."
Amina is just beginning to learn her physical limitations. Hospital records show the major vein that returns blood from the lower half of the body, called the inferior vena cava, was destroyed. According to vascular surgeon Dr. Kaj Johansen, most people die from such a loss. He says those who survive can expect severe, life-long problems.
Amina's attorney Jeff Campiche says such symptoms worsen as a child becomes an adult, "instead of getting better...she's going to get worse over time."
One of the bright spots in the Bowman household has been the birth of Amina's baby sister Danny, now four months old. But with a new baby, Teri Bowman says Amina's begun asking questions; questions with troubling answers. Attorney Campiche says if Amina were to one day become pregnant, "it would be a danger," in fact he says it could prove fatal.
That's heart-breaking news for Amina's family-minded parents to contemplate. "We kind of worry if Amina will ever have kids," says her father John Bowman adding, "was that taken away from her?"
Amina's parents also want answers about how the shooting happened in the first place. Ruled by the police as accidental, a judge dismissed charges against the third grader who brought the gun to school. His mother pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm and her boyfriend, who owned the gun, is still facing assault charges.
But the Bowman's also want to know why the school never intervened when court records show the nine year old had been disciplined for fighting as many as seven times in the year and a half leading up to the shooting. He'd been suspended for fighting just the week before the shooting; though he says he told the school he was being bullied.
Police interviews following the shooting indicate at least five children knew ahead of time that the boy talked about getting a gun but they never reported it.
Then there's Armin Jahr Elementary's internal student infraction reports obtained by the Bowman's attorneys. They show much higher numbers of infractions for things such as threats, assaults and bullying than at similar schools.
We wanted to ask about all of these issues but because the Bowmans are suing the Bremerton School District, the district declined our request for an interview. However they did offer a copy of the letter that went out to parents at the time of the shooting along with links to information from their website.
John Bowman believes this is a tragic case of continual missed opportunities, "There were adults all along the way that could have prevented that situation from ever happening."
Most of all, Teri Bowman wants their little girl to be happy again. "I want her to be carefree too, like how she used to be; not to worry about anything anymore."
The family hopes a planned move out-of-state at the end of the school year will be a fresh start.