The severely troubled 15-year-old who terrorized Hastings Middle School with a handgun last April will remain in juvenile detention and treatment until he's 21.
The teen could also face a nine-year adult prison term if he violates court orders or commits a new crime, according to the sentence imposed by Dakota County Judge Richard Spicer. The youth, whose name is not being released because of his age, pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree assault and had two other charges dismissed.
The private hearing Monday in Hastings was a culmination of a painful road traveled by the youth, who was in a Russian orphanage until age 3 and was abused and neglected. He's been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome and deep-seated mental and emotional problems that led his frustrated adoptive parents to place him in foster care and warn authorities they feared he could become violent to other children.
A year after that warning, he broke into several classrooms at the school, pointed the gun at faculty and students, and failed to fire the weapon only because he had loaded it with the wrong ammunition.
The rampage kept students locked in the school for much of the day and left many traumatized and fearful.
But after learning of the teen's past, many also felt sympathy.
"They just want him to get help, and that's what we want, too: Get him what he needs so that he can hopefully live a better life,'' school counselor Ellen Rademacher said. "Of course, our concern was for every student in the building. And then, in hindsight also looking out for him, and his needs, too. He needs some support."
Spicer said he meted out a plan to not only protect the public, but to try to piece together the wreckage of a young life. The judge placed the teen in a long-term program at a juvenile detention center, followed by long-term residential treatment with therapy and other mental health services.
Spicer also ordered the youth to pay restitution, write apologies to victims, have no contact with individual victims and the Hastings Middle School and to never possess weapons or replica weapons.
The teen's adoptive mother said she and her husband were saddened by the teen's actions but relieved that he will have a chance to get some help.
"We just wished for something different for his life and for our own lives," she said.
The student had told police he brought the gun to school on April 5 to try to scare those who had not treated him well.
He used a key to get into his foster parents' gun cabinet, took a handgun and ammunition and tucked them in his backpack. He skipped his first three classes.
About 10:30 a.m., he walked into his fourth-hour science class with the gun in hand, and though he didn't point it at anyone in particular, he ordered everyone to the ground. The teacher, Michael Rapatz, tried to calm the teen, but he left the room. The teacher alerted the school office to go on lockdown.
The teen walked the halls, rapping on classroom doors. He broke several windows to unlock the doors, and in one classroom, he pointed the gun around as students and the teacher lay on the floor in the back, hiding behind tables.
The teen was tackled outside the school and arrested. He received medical treatment for minor injuries.
"This incident was a harrowing experience for both the students and staff at Hastings Middle School," Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said Monday. "Fortunately, no one was physically injured. This incident could have been much more tragic."
Many students came for counseling in an intensive response launched by Principal Mark Zuzek, Rademacher, two other counselors and a school psychologist. Other professionals in the school district assisted.
It helped, Rademacher said, to tell students that the criminal justice system would make the teen face consequences -- and get the help he needs.
Good things to come
The teen's story coincided with a case of another troubled boy adopted from Russia who grabbed international headlines when his mother put him on a plane back to Moscow. The case put a strain on Russian adoptions to the United States, in which Minnesota is a major player. After hearing from other parents in similar circumstances as her family faced, the teen's adoptive mother, along with her family, is turning her energy to advocacy.
"Good things are going to come out of this," she said.
Under the name Grace Moms of Minnesota, the newly formed group is going to Russia this fall to visit orphanages, talk to orphans and meet with Russian officials and advocates in Russia to find ways to help children desperate for love and nurturing.
"We're going to talk with a woman who finds children living in boxes," the mother said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and the Department of Homeland Security -- which has ultimate authority over international adoptions -- has taken an interest in the group's effort. Joyce Sterkel, whose nationally renowned therapeutic boarding school for troubled adoptees in Montana, the Ranch for Kids, is also taking the goodwill trip.
The goal of the trip, said the Minnesota adoptive mother, is to foster greater understanding of adoption challenges in both countries and prevent problems such as her son's.
"We threw away our Kleenex boxes -- no more tears -- and we're going to go and do as only mothers can do," she said Monday.