Fayetteville, N.C. — A 17-year-old pleaded guilty Wednesday to attempted first-degree murder and several other charges in connection with a shooting of a Cape Fear High School student more than a year ago.
Catilyn Abercrombie, 15 at the time, was standing in the hallway on Oct. 24, 2011, when she was seriously injured when a bullet struck her in the neck.
Charles Underwood, one of two students charged in the shooting, was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison for the attempted murder charge, as well as charges of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, discharging a weapon on educational property and possession of a firearm on educational property.
"I'm sorry for all the pain that I put you through," Underwood told Abercrombie in court Wednesday. "I pray that one day you'll forgive me for what I did to you."
Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West said Underwood had been targeting another student because his cousin "had been jumped" at a party the previous weekend.
Underwood sent a text message on the morning of the shooting, West said, asking if that student was at school.
"If so, it's over. I got one of them guns on deck," West read from a transcript of the text conversation.
Abercrombie, West said, was in the breezeway outside the cafeteria when Underwood fired at his target.
She was hit, instead, and still, today, has a .22-caliber bullet lodged in her neck near her spine. After numerous surgeries, West said, she still experiences numbness and pain in her neck.
"I don't want you to spend the rest of your life in prison," Abercrombie told Underwood. "But I really believe you need to go – not because I want payback for that but because hopefully to change you. I just want to say please change your life around."
"He made a horrible decision," defense attorney Bernard Condlin told Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons.
Condlin said Underwood, 15 at the time, went to school on the day in question with a 32-inch rifle in his shorts, "because he was desperate" after being subjected to harassment by other students.
He refused his mother's attempts to call the school, saying she would only make matters worse, Condlin said.
When Underwood fired into the courtyard, he didn’t think he hit anyone, Condlin said, and he commented, "Thank God, I didn’t shoot anyone."
Underwood didn't learn until later that Abercrombie was hurt.
"I would suggest to the court that he was a good student," Condlin said. "I think this was one young man's attempt to get attention at school."
Underwood's family, including his aunt and mother, told Ammons the shooting was "out of character" for him and stemmed from the trouble he was having in school.
"I want you to learn something from this," Abercrombie's mother, Brenda Abercrombie, told Underwood. "I want you to know that I forgive you."
The shooting had been Abercrombie's second brush with death.
In March 2005, a drunken driver hit the car Abercrombie was riding in, killing her babysitter and leaving her with minor injuries.
"I don't know what God has in mind for you, Catilyn, but He's got something for you to do that you haven't done yet. That's why you're still here," Ammons said.
"I think He's got something in mind for you, too," he told Underwood, "because I'm not sending you to prison for life."