One year later: Why families of Madison Jr/Sr High School shooting victims are suing

Posted at 3:04 PM, Feb 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-28 18:00:43-05

MADISON TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- One year ago, James Austin Hancock opened fire in his school cafeteria and shot two classmates. Two others were hurt in the shooting.

The day was tense and emotional. Parents lined the streets near the school trying to catch a glimpse of their children; the students took to social media to let the world know that they were OK.

Police took the shooter, who was 14 at the time, into custody. Investigators said Hancock got the gun from his grandmother.

Hancock pleaded guilty to attempted murder charges; he told police he shot his classmates because he was unhappy at home.

Today, Hancock is in juvenile detention, where he'll stay until he turns 21.

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But one of the shooting victims, Cameron Smith, said what happened in the school cafeteria last year will affect him for the rest of his life.

"I had brand new shoes, brand new pants, brand new shirt. And we had no homework the entire day," he said. "Everyone was really nice. It was just a real simple day."

Smith, 16, said he didn't know Hancock before the shooting, but they were both in the eighth grade last year.

"I was sitting down eating lunch...then you hear a loud bang, and you look around," he said. "At first I actually thought it was like a BB gun because I didn't realize really what happened."

The bullet that hit Smith chipped his tailbone and was lodged in his hip joint, according to his grandmother. Another bullet was in his leg.

Smith goes to therapy and suffers from chronic back pain.

Smith and Cooper Caffrey, 14, were taken to Miami Valley Hospital after they were shot. Dr. Peter Ekeh, the hospital's trauma director, said Caffrey was shot just one time, while Smith was shot multiple times. Neither needed surgery.

"Cameron is a great kid, student, and he will make a full recovery," boys basketball coach Jeff Smith said.

Caffrey and Hancock are both Madison wrestlers, according to tournament results.

Two other students, Brant Murray and Katherine Doucette, both 14, were injured by flying shrapnel or while trying to get out of the way, authorities said. Doucette later posted on Facebook that a bullet grazed her; the injury wasn't serious, she wrote.

Before he was sentenced, Hancock spoke in court, saying, “I would like the victims to know they were not targeted.”

Smith and his grandmother, Murray, his sister and their family all filed a lawsuit against Hancock and his family. The suit, filed in June, asks for more than $350,000.

The lawsuit argues the negligence Hancock's family led to the shooting, incurring medical expenses and emotional distress for the students, including Murray's sister, who witnessed the shooting.

The family and victims are suing Hancock’s parents for “negligence, recklessness and wanton breach of duty.” They are also suing his grandparents, the owners of the handgun, for allowing Hancock to obtain the weapon.

Smith's grandmother, Melody Hollingsworth, said the lawsuit is about accountability.

"I firmly believe that not only could the parents have prevented this from happening, but there were two boys who saw those guns that morning," she said. "And I feel like maybe if they just would have told, it could have prevented all this from happening."

Police said Hancock blamed his home life as the reason he shot his classmates.

“The reason he gave for shooting was his home life. His mom doesn’t watch any of his sporting events and dad was on his case for his grades and has a lot of chores. Hancock further stated he was always grounded (at least seven months out of the year),” the investigation report says.

In the report, written by Butler County Sheriff’s Detective Michael Barger, Hancock said when a girl was on her way to tell school authorities about the gun in his backpack, “he knew he didn’t want to go home and started (shooting).”

Smith said if he had the chance to talk to Hancock, "I would probably say just because you have problems at home, it doesn't mean someone else hasn't been through worse or the same so it doesn't make it OK."