AIKEN - A freshman who brought a gun to North Augusta High School was freed on probation Thursday, but the judge said he wasn't sure whether administrators would allow the teen to return to campus.
"If I was them, I wouldn't want you there with your mentality on weapons," Family Court Judge Larry Inabinet said after a court hearing in which 15-year-old Joshua Jones appeared unmoved by his crime.
Joshua came to campus May 14 with a .32-caliber handgun in his waistband and six bullets in his pocket. Principal Kyle Smith disarmed the youth after other students reporting seeing the gun.
The boy told officials that he had been threatened by neighborhood youths and needed the gun for protection. A day after the incident, he pleaded guilty in family court to carrying a weapon on school property.
He was placed in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice while he underwent a lengthy psychological evaluation to determine whether he was fit to return home.
On Thursday, Judge Inabinet said he was reluctant to send Joshua home with his father and three siblings. The judge seemed dissatisfied after questioning the boy extensively on why he needed to carry a gun. He berated the youngster as a bad role model for his younger brothers.
"You're just as nonchalant about it as if you were carrying a pocketknife," Judge Inabinet said.
Prodded by the judge to say something, Joshua said: "I just want to say I'm sorry for what I've done. I learned my lesson."
The judge ordered an indefinite period of probation, telling Joshua that he could order him back into the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice for 18 to 24 months if the teen got into more trouble.
Joshua said he got the .32-caliber gun from "a dude named Redman," an older teen whom he met at a neighborhood party in North Augusta. The older teen traded the gun for Joshua's .25-caliber handgun, he said.
Joshua said he bought the .25-caliber gun on the streets of Atlanta, where he lived with his mother until he was expelled from school for fighting. He moved to North Augusta in December to live with his father, James Jones.
"Why was it necessary to go from a .25-caliber to a .32-caliber gun? What attracted you to that?" the judge asked.
"More power, sir," Joshua said.
Public Defender David Mauldin said Joshua "made a bad decision in this case" and recommended his client be released to his family.
"They just hopefully want to put this situation behind them and get on with their lives," Mr. Mauldin said.
Judge Inabinet ordered probation but warned Joshua's father to "get a hold of him."
"Now, if you don't take care of him, then you don't worry about it," Judge Inabinet said. "Society will take care of him."
Outside the courthouse, Joshua hugged his father and younger brothers. The family planned a party for the teen's return, complete with balloons, a welcome-home sign and a barbecue.
Asked what he planned to do if he felt threatened by neighborhood youths again, Joshua paused.
"Just ignore them," he said.
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.