A 14-year-old boy has been charged with killing a
teacher and wounding two pupils after a shooting at a school
graduation dance in Pennsylvania.
Police said Andrew Wurst, a pupil of Parker
Middle School, shot teacher John Gillette, 48, in the head on a
patio outside a banquet hall.
The teenager is then said to have walked inside and
fired several more shots with the handgun before leaving the building
through a rear exit.
He was charged as an adult with criminal homicide,
three counts each of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment, as
well as drug and gun charges.
School officials said they did not know what
motivated the shooting. Students described Wurst as a loner.
Celebration turned to carnage
Pupils were dancing to "My Heart Will Go On" from the
film Titanic at the Friday night dance when the first of several shots
rang out at Nick's Place, a banquet hall near Edinboro, about 100 miles
(160 km) north of Pittsburgh.
Adam Sarren, 15, said the noises sounded like a cap
gun. "It was pretty horrible. It was like a nightmare," he said. "We
were all scared and crying and praying."
Two 14-year-old boys were wounded by gunfire. One was
grazed across the abdomen and the other shot in the foot. Both were
treated at a hospital and released.
A female teacher was grazed by a bullet but did not
need medical treatment.
Captured at gunpoint
The teenager was caught in a field behind the hall
just after the shooting by the owner of the banquet hall, who was
carrying a shotgun.
Police said the boy had a handgun and a small amount
of marijuana in his possession.
Edinboro teen killer sentenced
The Edinboro boy, 15, who shot a teacher to death
last year gets 30 to 60 years after pleading guilty to third-degree
By Kristen Hays, The Associated Press
September 10, 1999
A 15-year-old Edinboro boy accused of killing a teacher at a junior high
school dance last year pleaded guilty to third-degree murder yesterday,
sparing himself the possibility of spending the rest of his life in
Judge Michael Palmisano sentenced Andrew Wurst to a
total of 30 to 60 years in prison on the murder charge and for attempted
homicide, assault and weapons charges.
Wurst must serve at least 30 years before becoming
eligible for parole.
He would have faced a mandatory life sentence if
convicted of first-degree murder for the April 1998 death of teacher
John Gillette, 48.
Wurst stood before the judge with closely-cropped
hair and wearing green prison overalls, his mother at his side, as
District Attorney Joe Conti asked questions to ensure they understood
the plea agreement.
Wurst refused to meet the prosecutor's eyes and
answered each question with a near-inaudible "yes" or "no." His mother,
Cathy, also answered quietly. As in previous court appearances, Wurst
displayed no emotion and appeared uninterested in the proceeding.
The teen-ager's attorneys had planned an insanity
defense. But they encouraged their client to agree to the guilty plea
for fear jurors would not accept that Wurst was mentally ill.
"The only way he would have done better is if the
jury would have found him insane, and insanity is a very difficult
defense, especially in the tenor of today's times with these shootings
around the country," defense attorney Philip Friedman said.
If jurors had rejected the insanity defense, Wurst's
attorneys had no other defense to offer, Friedman said.
"There's just a lot of hostility out there. It's very
difficult for the average jury to excuse people's behavior for these
actions, so we have to take into account that climate when we make a
decision like this," Friedman said.
Gillette was killed when Wurst, then 14, opened fire
at a dance for his eighth-grade class from James W. Parker Middle School
at a banquet hall in Edinboro. He also wounded two students and held a
gun to the principal's head.
The shooting -- which occurred within months of those
involving students in Jonesboro, Ark., West Paducah, Ky., and Pearl,
Miss. -- stunned tiny Edinboro, a town of 7,000 that is home to Edinboro
University and serves as a family vacation spot in northwestern
After Thursday's hearing, Conti said the victims had
approved of the plea agreement, which he said spared them the hardship
of a trial.
Gillette's wife, Debbie, and the other victims were
None would comment afterward.
Attorney Charles Longo of Cleveland, who represented
Debbie Gillette since shortly after the shooting, said she planned to
file a civil lawsuit against the Wurst family and a landscaping business
owned by the boy's father, Jerome Wurst.
Longo said the Gillette family was neither happy
about nor satisfied by Wurst's guilty plea. "They're able to accept it,"
Wurst had been scheduled to go to trial Oct. 25 as an
adult on a first-degree murder charge.
Under Pennsylvania law, Wurst could not have been
sentenced to death because he was younger than 16 at the time of the
shooting. Because of publicity about the case in Erie County, jurors for
Wurst's trial were to have been selected in Washington County, about 140
miles south of Erie.
In April, Palmisano ruled that Wurst should be tried
as an adult following days of conflicting testimony from psychiatrists
about the boy's mental state.
"The evidence suggests the defendant made a conscious
decision to arm himself with a deadly weapon and ammunition, after which
he selected his victims and executed his plan," the judge wrote at the
He added that "the evidence is insufficient to show
that if the defendant is truly suffering from mental illness at this
stage, he would be ostensibly cured and nondangerous upon his release
from a juvenile facility."
A month before the killing in Edinboro, Wurst told
classmates he wanted to kill people and commit suicide.
Another classmate noticed that Wurst was becoming
curt and unfriendly in the weeks before the shooting.
Palmisano recommended that Wurst begin his sentence
in a separate unit at a state prison for inmates younger than 18 who
have been convicted as adults. That unit is part of the state prison at
Houtzdale, Clearfield County.