EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

May 4, 2013

Pentucket student charged after fake gun found in backpack

(Continued)

When she was able to search his pocket, she found a folding pocket knife, which he said he kept with him to protect his friends. They also found the toy plastic handgun in his back pack, its orange tip covered with black electrical tape so that it looked real.

Stevens’ attorney, Jackson Casey, told Judge Peter Doyle that Stevens has Asperger’s syndrome, which caused the situation to “spiral out of control,” although he did not place blame on anyone. Asperger’s is a form of autism, a developmental disability that can severely impact a person’s ability to communicate and to understand social norms.

Casey said Stevens was in Theater A at the high school yesterday morning watching a video and took the prop gun, which was on a shelf in an unlocked cabinet. Casey stressed the youth did not bring the gun into school himself but took it from the cabinet.

One of the symptoms of those with Asperger’s, Casey said, is that it’s difficult “to deal with more than one person at a time.” When multiple officers confronted him, Casey said, Stevens was overwhelmed and acted out.

“It’s certainly understandable how this spiraled out of control,.” Casey said. “When police arrived en masse, he was unable to process the situation.”

Casey said one contributing factor to the escalation is that Stevens’ regular classroom teacher was out, and a substitute was there. Had his regular teacher been there, Casey said, this situation may never had happened for she would have known his condition and known the gun was a prop.

The state initially asked for $25,000 bail. Casey and Stevens’ parents pleaded with Doyle to reduce bail to $2,500 so they could post it and bring him home.

“He’s a senior. He gets good grades. He’s scheduled to graduate on June 1. He isn’t a troublemaker. He has no criminal record,” his mother told the judge. “This has never happened before. He’s never had problems in the past. Not his typical behavior. This is an aberration.”

The boy’s father said it was unfortunate that school staff had not told police that he had Asperger’s syndrome, and that police should have training in how to handle situations involving people with the syndrome.

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