PERRY HALL, Md. — At 6:27 a.m. on his first day as a sophomore at Perry Hall High School in the Baltimore suburbs, Robert Wayne Gladden Jr. updated his Facebook status.
“First day of school, last day of my life,” he wrote. He then typed a symbol resembling a person with two middle fingers extended before adding “f—- the world.”
Gladden, a pale youth with long, dark hair who turned 15 just three weeks ago, has been charged as an adult in the shooting of a 17-year-old classmate, who was hit in the back with a shotgun blast in the school’s cafeteria Monday morning. The victim, Daniel Borowy, remained in critical condition Tuesday afternoon.
While authorities did not discuss a motive for the shooting, Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson said Gladden planned the attack and fired a shot at random before school staff rushed him. A second shot hit the ceiling during the struggle, police said.
But Gladden’s attorney, George Psoras, challenged that version of events, saying that the teenager brought the shotgun to school to intimidate bullies and did not aim it at classmates or intend to harm anyone. Psoras said he believes Gladden fired into the floor and the gun discharged again accidentally while teachers tried to wrestle it away.
“The stereotype right now is that we have a Columbine,” Psoras told The Associated Press. “It’s simply not the case. This is a typical teenager who was just starting this school year. He was being bullied, and the bullying has to stop.”
The police chief said Gladden told investigators directly that bullying was not the motive for the shooting. But Psoras said that his client made those comments under duress and he criticized police for their interrogation tactics. Elise Armacost, a police spokesman, said the department stood by the chief’s statements.
Meanwhile, Gladden’s Facebook page and comments from his classmates suggested a troubled and withdrawn young man. Patrick Waters, a 14-year-old sophomore at Perry Hall, said that Gladden didn’t have many friends and dressed “kind of different.” He also said Gladden had been disciplined in middle school.
“He would just walk up and hit people,” Waters said.
Waters said he’d played football against Gladden in middle school, but he didn’t think Gladden was involved in sports anymore.
Humberto Cardona, 15, said Gladden dressed “kind of gothic” and grew his hair out.
“He’d like wear it in front of his face, like he was hiding,” Cardona said.
The Facebook page, which classmates confirmed was his, makes references to murder-suicide and to mass murderer Charles Manson. Gladden gave himself the nickname “SuicidalSmile,” and the three photos of him all show his face hidden behind his long hair. He describes himself as a “metalhead” and a fan of musicians Marilyn Manson and Slipknot.
There were also indications of a troubled home life. Gladden’s father and stepfather both have criminal records, and his stepfather is facing gun charges stemming from a search of his home Monday. The charges are not related to the school shooting, police said.
According to the timeline provided by Johnson and by prosecutors in charging documents, Gladden rode the bus to school, carrying a bag with a disassembled shotgun, 21 rounds of ammunition and a bottle of vodka.
When he arrived at Perry Hall High School — the county’s largest school, serving the quiet, middle-class suburbs northeast of Baltimore — he attended his first two classes. On the way to lunch, he stashed the bag with the gun in a restroom.
He was inside the cafeteria briefly before returning to the restroom to assemble the double-barreled shotgun, which was manufactured before 1968 and had been taken from his father’s house in Middle River, police said.
At some point he sipped from the vodka bottle, but he was not drunk, police said. He hid the gun under his clothing and went back to the cafeteria.
Once inside the bustling lunchroom, he lifted the shotgun and fired at a nearby table, striking Borowy, police said. But Psoras said Gladden fired the first shot into the ground. He said the second shot was fired accidentally as school staff struggled with his client for control of the gun.
School officials and witnesses praised guidance counselor Jesse Wasmer for wrestling the gun out of Gladden’s hands.
“This situation could have been much, much worse,” county schools Superintendent Dallas Dance said. “Thanks to Jesse for his quick thinking.”
The victim, Borowy, has Down syndrome, according to classmates. His family issued a statement thanking supporters for their prayers and asking for privacy.
Gladden was being held without bail. A bail review was expected Wednesday, and assistant state’s attorney Garret Glennon said he would argue that the teen continue to be held without bail. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept. 7.
Psoras cautioned against a rush to judgment.
“There are no pat generalizations that can ever explain these types of cases. The human brain is exceptionally complex,” he said. “When all the facts come out, you’ll see that Mr. Gladden was not some demon.”
Gladden’s father, Robert W. Gladden, told the AP Monday night that his son had been bullied, although he did not elaborate.
Classes resumed Tuesday at the school amid a low-key police presence. About 150 students turned out for a prayer vigil organized by local churches on the school grounds. Some students wore T-shirts and bracelets reading “Pray for Daniel” and “Team Wasmer” in reference to the victim and the guidance counselor.
Nuckols reported from Washington.