MIAMI - In a powerful act of forgiveness, the mother of a girl who died after being shot on a school bus hugged the teen shooter after a plea deal was agreed that he would become an advocate against gun violence rather than be sent to prison.
"It is our hope that ... he will join me in going from school to school; from child to child; from parent to parent; from teacher to teacher urging them to understand how dangerous guns are in the hands of children," the victim's mother, Martha Guzman-DeJesus, said in a statement read out in court during a plea hearing on Tuesday.
Jordyn Howe, 16, had pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a deadly weapon and two other charges. He was facing 22 months in prison for the accidental shooting of then 13-year-old Lourdes "Jina" Guzman-DeJesus.
"I'm sorry for her loss and I apologize for doing what I did," Howe said before embracing Guzman-DeJesus in a tearful hug in court.
The plea resulted from a month of meetings between lawyers, the victim's mother, prosecutors and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ellen Sue Venzer. Howe was ordered to spend a year in a Florida juvenile detention center, followed by supervision until he turns 21.
As part of the agreement he will tour the state with Guzman-DeJesus a dozen times a year to speak out against gun violence. Should he not live up to the conditions of the agreement, it states he'll be sent to prison to serve the full 22-month term.
During a series of painful meetings, "the consensus was this was a kid who was truly is regretful about having brought the gun to school, a kid who had a relationship with Jina," said Ron Book, a high profile Florida lobbyist and victim advocate who is also Guzman-DeJesus's attorney.
Before the 2012 shooting, Howe brought his stepfather's unloaded pistol to school several times to show friends after he found it wrapped in a towel on a high shelf in his home, Book said.
The day of the incident, as the gun was being passed around on the school bus, Howe aimed it at the floor, he said. It did not discharge, and he later pointed it at Guzman-DeJesus, hitting her in the neck.
She was rushed to a hospital where doctors pronounced her dead. Her father, who Book said served time in county jail but was rejoining her daughter's life, committed suicide two weeks later.