A Jefferson County grand jury will decide the next steps in the case of Michael Barber, 17, accused of fatally shooting his schoolmate Courtlin Arrington in March at Huffman High School. Barber faces charges of reckless manslaughter and unlawful possession of a firearm. His lawyers say the killing was accidental.
Judge Clyde Jones referred the case to the grand jury after hearing testimony from lawyers and the lead detective for about an hour on Friday.
Based on what Barber and witnesses told police, Detective James Towns gave this account:
Near the end of the school day on March 7, students were in a hall near the doorway to a classroom. Barber was waving or showing a gun — a 9 mm Highpoint semi-automatic. Arrington asked to see it and the weapon fired, striking her just above the right breast. She fell into the classroom. Barber was in the hall, continued Towns, trying to put the gun away in his pants when it fired, the bullet striking him in the leg.
Earlier in the day, Towns’ account continued, Barber got the weapon from his friend’s car. But before that, Barber allegedly had tried to buy a gun of his own but was robbed of his money.
Barber told his friends he needed the weapon because of other gun activity around school.
Jones criticized Barber: “Because of reckless conduct, we’ve got a young lady who is dead,” said the judge, adding that Barber had no business with a gun, especially in school. He allowed Barber to go home with his mother but put him on an 8 p.m. curfew. His mother said he is being home-schooled.
Attorney Courtney French, who’s representing Arrington’s family, said the shooting would not have happened if the school system had followed its own rules and not allowed guns on campus. Arrington was set to graduate in May and planned to go to college to study nursing.
French also said that, in the wake of previous gun-related incidents, Superintendent Lisa Herring made an automated call to Huffman High parents soon before Arrington was killed, reassuring parents that the school would be safe.
French says he is preparing to file a civil claim against the Birmingham Board of Education.
UPDATED 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 27 with a statement from Birmingham City Schools: “While we are unable to comment on details relative to pending legal matters, Birmingham City Schools remains deeply saddened by the tragic incident at Huffman High School. Although our goal is to educate students in a safe, secure and nurturing environment, we recognize that unforeseen events may occur. Accordingly, when the need arises, the district routinely sends out robocalls to keep our parents abreast of updates and other relevant information.”