Accused Florida Teen Appears in Court

Saturday, May 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAKE WORTH, Fla. (AP) — Nathaniel Brazill was a seventh-grader on the honor roll, a model student with perfect attendance.

The 13-year-old flute player also had been picked to be a student mediator at Lake Worth Community Middle School next fall.

School officials, friends and family today were struggling to understand how the skinny kid who loved to joke around could be responsible for fatally shooting Barry Grunow, a beloved English teacher, on the last day of the school year.

``If you asked me to pick one kid out of a 1,000 to do something like this, he wouldn't be the one,'' said Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent H. Benjamin Marlin.

Brazill earned A's and B's, according to Nat Harrington, a spokesman for the school board. ``He had no problems of any kind, prior to this.''

The youngster had been sent home by an assistant principal Friday around 1 p.m. for throwing water balloons in class. According to police, he rode his bicycle back to school a couple hours later with a .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol in his pocket.

The weapon — a compact, 5-inch model called a Raven — was loaded with four bullets he had stolen from his grandfather's dresser drawer a week before, Police Chief William Smith said.

Brazill tried to talk to two girls in Grunow's class and when the teacher told him to leave, police say, he pulled out the gun and shot Grunow in the head.

Brazill, his wrists shackled, appeared today before Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Jorge LaBarga, who ordered the boy remain in custody until a grand jury considers what charges should be brought against him.

His parents were visibly distraught at the hearing; Brazill's expression was obstructed from view. He was flanked by two public defenders, who said they are still working on how to best represent their client.

``It is too premature, we need to spend more time with our client,'' said Damon Amedeo, one of the boy's lawyers. ``We've had a limited amount of time with him, and facts are still coming in.''

Smith said police also might file charges against the boy's grandfathe

A few hours after Friday's shooting, the classroom appeared frozen in time: Book bags littered the floor, a red carnation was in a vase on the teacher's desk. Stretched across the front of the room over a blackboard was a banner that read: ``Welcome to Mr. Grunow's Class.''

``He was standing out in the hall, telling everybody to go back into class because it wasn't time to be dismissed,'' said 13-year-old Amanda Grunwald. ``Five seconds later he was shot.''

Brazill, on his bicycle, flagged down a police officer about a quarter of a mile from the school and surrendered. He told investigators he liked Grunow, who was popular with students.

Lake Worth is just south of West Palm Beach. Palm Beach County is the fourth largest school district in Florida and 14th largest in the nation with more than 149,500 students.

The 35-year-old Grunow, who had worked at the school for seven years, had a wife, a 5-year-old son and infant daughter.

``I know Barry loved the kids and he would want us all to keep loving the kids,'' said Jeff Neal, a teacher at the school and a friend of Grunow's.

Outside the apartment where Brazill lives with his mother, stepfather and 2-year-old sister, neighbors said he was not a troublemaker. Carmen Torres said she often heard him playing the flute or would see him playing basketball with friends.

``I didn't even know he knew how to shoot a gun,'' said Nathaniel's grandmother, Eberlena Josey, who walked into the police station Friday night after hearing her grandson's name on TV.

Brazill had talked about getting a gun from his grandfather's house a few weeks ago after an argument with a boy over a girl, eighth grader Marc Ariot said. But no one took him seriously.

``He was always smiling, joking around,'' Ariot said.

``All my life, all his little life, he's been good,'' said Polly Joseph, who identified herself as Nathaniel great-godmother. ``He was a sweet boy.''