Jordyn Howe, who accidentally shot his 13-year-old classmate to death on a South Miami-Dade school bus five years ago, returned to court on Tuesday — along with the slain girl’s mother.
Neither was there for a legal hearing. Instead, two people forever linked by one errant bullet sat side-by-side to tell their stories to more than 100 captivated Gulliver Preparatory School students crowded in a Miami-Dade courtroom.
In an extraordinary and somber chat, Howe recalled the bullying that led him to take the gun to school on behalf of a trusted friend and how the tragedy left him feeling isolated and alone, shattering his relationship with his mother and raising the possibility that he could one day be deported.
“I just don’t trust people,” said the soft-spoken 18-year-old Howe, who is still on probation for manslaughter for the November 2011 death of Lourdes “Jina” Guzman-DeJesus.
One student raised his hand and asked Ady Guzman-DeJesus, mother of the slain girl, how she finally stopped wanting harsh prison time for the teen seated at her side.
“What was the turning point?” the student asked.
“I know he didn’t do it on purpose,” Guzman-DeJesus said. “It took me awhile to understand that. He’s not a killer. I know in his heart, he’s sorry. I decided to forgive him.”
The courtroom visit for the 106 juniors and seniors from Gulliver, a prestigious private school in Pinecrest, was organized by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ellen Sue Venzer. Her goal: help students understand the grim consequences of crime.
The lessons were vivid. Groups of students toured the jail facilities in the bowels of the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building. As the teens dined on box lunches from the Mediterranean restaurant Pasha’s, a jail officer had them pass around the plastic-wrapped bologna sandwiches eaten by jail inmates.
A former college student and Air Force veteran named James Thomas — facing trial for beating up an elderly man — told students about his descent into drug abuse and a near suicide. “I thought addiction happened to other people,” said Thomas, 23. “I thought I was smarter than addiction.”
Another former college student, Winsley Henri, 23, spoke to students while shackled in the defendant’s box, clad in an orange jail jumpsuit. He blew his probation for a series of armed robberies, though he’s now getting another chance by enrolling in a strict Miami-Dade jail boot camp.
“Imagine waking up every day to the same thing” Henri told them. “It’s not pretty, it’s not fun … this place is for nobody.”
As for Howe, he was only 15 when he took his stepfather’s pistol from a hiding place in a bedroom closet. He told the students that he brought the gun to help a trusted friend who was dealing with bullies.
Howe revealed for the first time that he believed that him and his friend might have gotten into a violent confrontation with the bullies.
“Did you have any idea anybody off the bus would get hurt?” Judge Venzer asked.
“Probably,” Howe said. “I thought they would have more guns than we have. Either we’d die there, me or him, or … I don’t know.”
Howe boarded the school bus outside the gated Waterstone gated community in Homestead, walked to the back and allowed students to play with the gun. Later, as Howe was pointing the gun, he squeezed the trigger and shot Lourdes in the neck, mortally wounding her.
In June 2014, Howe pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a deadly weapon. With the blessing of Lourdes’ mother, he was adjudicated as a juvenile, not an adult. He was sent to the Avon Park Youth Academy for a year and remains under the supervision of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, until the age of 21.
On Tuesday, Howe – a tall, painfully shy teen – surprisingly opened up to students whom he had never met. Though he is in school, Howe noted his anxiety that he could be deported back to Honduras after his court supervision is over.
He described how he did not meet his mother until he was 9, joining her in the United States after his childhood in Honduras. The tense relationship has continued even after his arrest and today.
“She would blame me for everything,” Howe said. “Anything that happened in my family, they would say it was my fault.”
At least on Tuesday, Howe had a mother figure in Guzman-DeJesus, who sat and chatted with him for hours in the courtroom hallway as they waited for their turns to speak. “She was very maternal toward him,” Judge Venzer said. “It was very tender.”
The talk left a few students near tears.
Said Pablo Ocampo, a 17-year-old Gulliver student: “It was very heart warming. It really shows the humanity of some people. It was a very beautiful thing.”