Suspect in shooting to be tried as adult

By Pat Jenkins

The Dispatch

The teenager suspected of firing the shots that wounded two Graham-Kapowsin High School students turned himself in to authorities last week and promptly learned he will stand trial in the case as an adult.

Ronald Ackerson, 16, surrendered and was taken into custody Dec. 11 in Tacoma at Remann Hall, Pierce County’s juvenile detention center. The next day, he was charged with two counts of assault in the first degree, drive-by shooting, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

Under state law, he will be tried as an adult because of the seriousness of the crime. Because of that, The Dispatch is reporting Ackerson's name, which was released by authorities. Names of criminal defendants or suspects who are minors usually aren't disclosed.

Ackerson had been the object of a search by police since the incident Dec. 5 on Eustis-Hunt Road near Graham-Kapowsin High, where a group of people gathered for a fight between two students who were involved in a dispute earlier at the school. The fight didn’t happen, but shots were fired from an automobile as it drove away from the off-campus site. Two students suffered bullet wounds that the Sheriff Department described as life-threatening, but they survived.

Pierce County Sheriff Department investigators used information from witnesses and photographs in asking for the public’s help in finding the suspected shooter, who authorities called armed and dangerous. He was at-large for six days before turning himself in. “Large numbers of citizens” provided tips to investigators in the case, the Sheriff Department reported.

Three other teenagers, all males, who reportedly were in the same car as the shooter were arrested in the hours after the shooting. Two of them were held at Remann Hall before being released without being charged. As for the third one, investigators reportedly know who he is and last week still wanted to question him about the shooting.

As for the case against Ackerson, “we have zero tolerance for gun violence at or near our schools,” said Pierce Couty Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist. “We’re committed to protecting our youth.”

Lindquist noted it's illegal for "unsupervised juveniles to possess handguns. This case is another example why. If the defendant didn’t have a gun, this would just be another minor high school skirmish.”

The prosecutor's office gave the following account of events leading to the shooting and the charges:

On Dec. 4, two Graham-Kapowsin students exchanged words following an altercation between two of their friends. One of the students threatened the other later in the day by telephone, according to the prosecutor's office.

The next day, the two students agreed via social media to fight after school. When one of them showed up at the designated location, the student he was supposed to fight and two other people – one of them Ackerson –stepped out of a car, Lindquist said. Verbal insults were exchanged, but there was no fight.

When the three people from the car got back in and drove away, Ackerson, sitting in the front passenger seat, leaned out the window and allegedly fired several shots. Two male students who were bystanders were struck by the bullets. One was wounded in the leg. The other was shot in the lower left side of his abdomen.

Witnesses identified Ackerson and the other occupants of the car, Lindquist said.

Although the shooting occurred off-campus, Graham-Kapowsin and two neighboring schools – Frontier Middle School and Nelson Elementary School – were locked down while deputies searched the buildings and grounds after the incident.

The Bethel School District canceled all after-school activities that were scheduled at the high school and the middle school the day of the shooting. Classes resumed the next day but started two hours late at the high school.

The shooting happened one month after an unrelated incident in which a student at another high school in the district was arrested after he was discovered with a gun on campus.

In that incident, the 15-year-old student was taken out of class Nov. 7 at Bethel High because he was believed to have marijuana with him. When a sheriff deputy suspected the student was carrying a gun, a search produced a semi-automatic handgun in the pocket of gym shorts the youth was wearing under sweatpants. The gun wasn't loaded and there was no ammunition in the student's backpack, which did contain 11 grams of marijuana, authorities said.


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