Perry Hall High School student Robert W. Gladden Jr. pleaded guilty Tuesday to attempted murder in a shooting attack on a schoolmate last August, bringing an abrupt end to his trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
Gladden, 15, had told investigators that he wanted to kill himself when he fired his father's shotgun in a crowded lunchroom on the first day of school. Now he could be imprisoned until he is 55.
Returning to court two weeks after failing to convince a judge that he should be tried as a juvenile, Gladden formally admitted Tuesday to shooting 17-year-old Daniel Borowy, a special-needs student at the public school.
Borowy has recovered from a wound to the back and has returned to school.
Gladden also pleaded guilty to using a firearm in a violent crime. Prosecutors dropped 27 other charges in exchange for the plea.
Gladden now faces a maximum of 40 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced next week.
In court Tuesday, Gladden spoke only to mumble "yes" in response to questions from Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. about whether he understood the terms of the plea agreement.
His mother, sister and other relatives cried gently during the hearing. Gladden wore the same blue-and-white striped, oversize short-sleeve dress shirt he wore at a hearing earlier this month.
Neither Borowy nor his parents were in court Tuesday. They did not attend the previous hearing. Messages to Daniel Borowy's father seeking comment were not returned.
Gladden's attorney said "Bobby" had decided "not to bring more heartache to the family."
"By putting this behind us, the community can heal and move forward," attorney George Psoras Jr. said.
But he added: "I still don't think he understands the magnitude. When you are 15 years old, what is life?"
Psoras said Gladden turned down an agreement to plead guilty to the same two charges in exchange for a life sentence.
Two weeks ago, Psoras had argued that Gladden would fare better in the juvenile system, where he would have access to intense, psychiatric treatment.
But Cahill denied the request, calling Gladden a threat to public safety, among other factors.
Early on the morning of Aug. 27, a chilling post appeared on Gladden's Facebook page: "First day of school, last day of my life."
Prosecutors say Gladden took a shotgun from his father's Hawthorne home, disassembled the weapon, concealed it in a Bob Marley backpack and took it with him on the school bus to Perry Hall High. He also carried 21 shotgun shells and a bottle of vodka.
In an interview videotaped by detectives and played during the hearing earlier this month, Gladden said he planned to kill others and himself "to make a point: that the world is a f— -up place."
Prosecutors say Gladden stashed the shotgun in a bathroom, attended his first few classes and waited until the end of lunch period. They say he told two friends to leave the lunchroom for their safety.
Prosecutors do not believe Gladden discussed his plan with anyone. They say he retrieved the weapon, returned to the lunchroom and opened fire. They say he told a detective later that day that he "just went for the biggest group."