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Principal Who Was Shot By Student Asks Judge To Give Teen Gunman 2nd Chance.

Each year in the U.S., more than 200,000 juveniles are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as adults.

That means spending years in facilities designed for adults, where juveniles receive little of the educational services, vocational training, and mental-health counseling they need to become productive members of society.

Mental health issues, in particular, were at the core of the case of a high school shooting that occurred in the fall of 2015.


On September 30, 16-year-old Mason Buhl walked into the principal’s office at his brand new high school in Harrisburg, South Dakota, pointed a pistol at the principal’s face, and opened fire.

Thankfully, the gun malfunctioned and Principal Kevin Lein was not shot in the head but in the arm and chest. Neither wound was life-threatening, and he returned to school the next day with his arm in a sling. Office staff acted heroically to take down the gunman before anyone else was hurt.


Mason was charged as an adult for attempted murder. If convicted, he faced a 25-year sentence.

Last week, after spending nearly two years languishing in a detention facility awaiting trial, Mason pleaded guilty to the charges.

“I intend to show with my actions that I wish that never happened, that I’m not my mistakes, that I’m sorry to the community, Lincoln County and everyone involved,”Buhl said during his sentencing.


Surprisingly, the judge suspended the 25-year sentence and instead sentenced him to 15 years’ probation and committed him to a mental-health rehabilitation program. This decision was based, in part, on the advocacy of none other than the victim himself.


Principal Lein has always taken the same approach: treatment over punishment.

When a psychiatric evaluation concluded mental illness played a role in the shooting, Lein took a strong stance, advocating that Mason be given the chance to rehabilitate. Mason, he said, spent almost two years locked up without getting any of the help he needed.

“That seems like a crime in itself, that he’s just had to sit for so long without any real result,”said the principal.


“Dr. Lien’s compassion and understanding is no small factor… in giving Buhl a second chance,” said Mason’s attorney. “Dr. Lien is an extraordinary man by any measure.”

Lein now plans to visit Mason in rehab, hoping as always to help a student heal.

“Forgiveness,” said Lein, “is really the only thing we control.”


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