August 27, 2013

The new year at Taft Union High School sometimes brings “sorrow” to would-be senior Bowe Cleveland. He said Tuesday that he can’t bring himself to return to the school where he was shot last winter.

The 17-year-old was spoke publicly for the first time about the Jan. 10 shooting inside a high school science classroom. Cleveland continues to recover from serious injuries.

He told Eyewitness News that he’s still the same person, though many things have changed since that morning in January.

"I didn’t know I had been struck, so I just stood up," Cleveland recalled. "Looked around the classroom inevitably to assess the situation that had happened to me, and luckily everyone was able to get behind (cover) in that time."

Fellow student Bryan Oliver is accused of barging into the in-session class and blasting Cleveland with a shotgun.

Oliver, 16 at the time of the shooting, was charged as an adult with two counts of attempted murder and three counts of assault with a firearm. Cleveland suffered chest and abdominal injuries.

Oliver is accused of shooting at another student, Jacob Nichols, but missed. Teacher Ryan Heber received minor injuries, grazed by shotgun pellets.

Officers said Oliver claimed he had been bullied by Cleveland - the motive for the shooting. Cleveland responded to that charge for the first time.

"That hurts," he told Eyewitness News. "It really hurts, because I worked so hard to not be a bully."

Attorney Daniel Rodriguez has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the family, and he believes Cleveland was a victim of bullying and not an aggressor.

"Just because the shooter had such a perception doesn’t make it real," the lawyer said.

Class is back in session at the Taft school, but Cleveland said he made the difficult decision not to go back for his senior year, even though that means not being with his friends.

"I don’t feel comfortable, and it was a scary situation to me personally to be back in the same place where this all occurred," the teenager said. "So, I decided against going back."

Cleveland said he feels that’s one of the things the incident took away from him. He said he’s also not as comfortable being in a group since the shooting.

"I used to absolutely love that, being out with people and being social," Cleveland said. "Making people laugh was one of my favorite things to do, and I was taken away from that."

The teenager said he sometimes has trouble sleeping, and some things bother him. “Such as people that to me, look like the shooter,” he said.

Cleveland said he’s also more nervous in large crowds.

"Hopefully, soon to pass," he added about being nervous in crowds now.

Cleveland also faces physical recovery. He’s set for more surgery next week.

"They’ll cut me open from my chest to down to my pelvic pone to reattach my muscles," he described.

Cleveland said he ended up with injuries to his lung and liver, and a couple broken ribs. That’s from the shotgun blast hitting his chest.

And, Cleveland said pellets still in his body keep working their way out.

"One came out of my chest yesterday," he described. "And, I coughed one up around two weeks ago."

He’s been told there could be thousands of the small shotgun pellets still clustered in his body, and he keeps finding them.

"They’re almost soggy and breakable," Cleveland described. "They’re the tiniest little things."

He said it’s not clear if the pellets will present a health hazard at some point.

Cleveland said he has good and bad days physically. He’s currently studying at home to pass the California High School Proficiency Exam. He’s also staying busy with hobbies, especially his interest in Spider-Man comics.

He’s trying to move on.

"This was a disaster in a way, no one would want this," Cleveland said. "It was definitely a situation that changed my life along with my family’s for the rest of our lives."

He’s disappointed not to finish out at his high school, but Cleveland is convinced that’s the right thing for him to do. 

"Possibly going back would have dampened things that I can work out personally to better myself and move on from this whole thing," he said.

Cleveland said he wants to go to college and study film acting, writing and public speaking. He wants get beyond the shooting.

"Things have changed, that goes without saying," the teenager said. "They will, and they have. But as I take things day to day, I still am who I was, if not stronger in a lot of ways."

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