Kayla Rolland, 6, loved to go to church and watch her favourite show on television, Barney. She was known as a kind and sensitive little girl who “would help anybody.” Her babysitter described as having a heart of gold and in school, she was the top reader in her first-grade class. She lived in Mount Morris Township, Michigan, with her mother and two older siblings.
On the 29th of February, 2000, Kayla arrived for her classes at Buell Elementary School. The school was situated in the heart of a rough neighbourhood, rife with unemployment and heavy drug use. During a change of classes, most of the first-graders were lined up in the hallway, ready to move to their next class. As some children lingered in the home room – including Kayla – the first-grade teacher, Alicia Judd, went into the hallway to check on the other children. When the teacher stepped out of the classroom, Dedrick Owens, also 6-years-old, approached Kayla. While standing in front of her, Dedrick announced: “I don’t like you.” Kayla turned around and retorted: “So?”1 Without responding, Dedrick lifted out a .32 handgun from his trouser waistband and shoot Kayla. The bullet entered her right arm and travelled through a vital artery.
As a small, crimson spot spread across her pullover shirt, Kayla said: “I’m going to die,” to another classmate before crumpling to the ground. Judd, who heard the commotion, ran back into the classroom, saw the blood-spattered body of her pupil and called 911:
Judd: “I have a student at Buell school that [is] dying. I need an ambulance immediately.”
911: “Where’s the child that has been shot?”
Judd: “Right here on the floor in my class. Oh, God, please, she’s getting white. The little girl is getting white.”
911: “Is she breathing?”
Judd: “No, she’s not.”2
Following the shooting, Dedrick placed the gun on his desk and ran out into the hall, where he was detained by school officials and taken to the principal’s office. Kayla was treated by paramedics at the scene and was rushed to Hurley Medical Center where she was pronounced dead at 10:29AM. Her mother’s cries could be heard throughout the halls of the hospital.
Dedrick subsequently became the youngest school shooter in a nation overwhelmed by such tragedies. He was taken into police custody where he explained what he had done. It was noted he showed no remorse nor did he seem upset. He simply believed that he had been “naughty” and that a “bad thing had happened.”3After telling his story, Dedrick sat drawing pictures on a piece of paper given to him by authorities. “He thought this was like television, meaning people don’t really die. He was expressing to police he didn’t understand it was real,” said Police Chief Eric King.
As it soon became apparent, Dedrick and his older brother had been living in a crack den operated by his uncle, Sir Marcus Winfrey, and another man, Jamelle James. Dedrick’s mother, Tamarla Owens, had moved the two boys in with her brother and his friend after the young family were evicted from their home. The crack den on Juliah St. was notorious as a haven for cocaine users which would often trade stolen guns for drugs. “He was basically living in hell,” said Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickerell. The house had been under federal investigations for drug and gun trafficking before the shooting. However, police were building a case and hadn’t yet moved on the house.
Even before moving to the crack den, Dedrick had been living with his drug addicted mother who would later confess she frequently exposed all of her children to marijuana despite their young ages. In addition to Dedrick and his brother, Tamarla had another daughter who she took to live with other relatives. Despite her evident problems, Tamarla had been working two jobs in Oakland County in an attempt to get off welfare. At the time of the shooting, Dedrick’s father, Dedric, was in jail for violating parole. He had been convicted of cocaine possession with the intent to sell.
An investigation uncovered that the gun used in the shooting had been stolen by Jamelle, who routinely kept it loaded and often twirled it in front of the two boys, creating an atmosphere of reckless circumstances. In the days leading up to the shooting, several witnesses would later tell police they had seen Dedrick playing with the gun which wasn’t kept in a secure place. Alarmingly, numerous phone calls had been placed to the police by the neighbours who knew that the living conditions were unacceptable for two children. “It took a killing to get these people out of here,” one neighbour quipped.
It was uncovered that throughout his short life, Dedrick had behavioural issues. He was known to kick and hit his other classmates and pick fights. A classmate recalled how Dedick had punched him after he refused to give him a pickle. Even more alarming, Dedrick had once been suspended for stabbing a fellow student with a pencil.4 In fact, Dedrick had attacked Kayla beforehand and just the day before the shooting, he had attempted to kiss her on the playground and she pushed him away. He later told police he had taken the gun to school in an attempt to scare Kayla after their playground altercation. Shortly after the shooting, County prosecutor Arthur Busch said that Dedrick knew that the gun was loaded when he retrieved it from his pants and fired, but “whether he could understand what the result would be was another matter.”5
Michigan law states that somebody needs to be old enough to form criminal intent to commit the crime of murder. Moreover, the common law of the United States decrees that a child under the age of seven is not criminally responsible and cannot be convicted of a felony. Therefore, it was declared that Dedrick lacked the ability to form intent and was not charged with murder. Instead, Dedrick was expelled for 90 days in accordance with Michigan’s school anti-weapons law and placed into foster care.
Following the shooting, Dedrick’s father apologised for the shooting but refused to take responsibility. “The only thing I feel responsible for is not being there in his life like I’m supposed to be, like a father, every day.”6 For not keeping the gun in a secure location and therefore granting Dedrick access to the weapon, Jamelle James was charged with involuntary manslaughter. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to two to 15 years imprisonment. Sir Marcus Winfrey pleaded guilty to federal firearms charges and was sentenced to six to 12 months imprisonment. Tamarla Owens, who would claim she had no idea that stolen guns were being sold inside the house, was charged with neglect.
Kayla was the youngest school shooting victim in the United States until the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Kayla’s mother, Veronica McQueen, went on to become a staunch advocate for stricter gun control. “I wanted to go back to semi-normal, and me being mom at home taking care of my children,” she said. “But this is leading me in another direction. I tried to fight it at first, but I have to follow my heart.”7
- Time, 5 March, 2000 – “The Killing of Kayla”
- Washington Post, 21 March, 2000 – “A 6-Year-Old Killer Who Had No Place To Call Home”
- The Sun, 2 March, 2000 – “Face of Killer Aged 6”
- The Packet & Times, 22 December, 2001 – “It Was Murder in the First Grade”
- The Daily Telegraph, 10 March, 2000 – “90 Days’ Expulsion”
- The Advertiser, 4 March, 2000 – “A Boy who Hated His Classmates”
- The Toronto Star, 5 January, 2003 – “Children With Guns Killing Children”