Woman sentenced to 3 years in TDCJ for planting gun in child’s backpack, reporting him to school

Woman sentenced to 3 years in TDCJ for planting gun in child’s backpack, reporting him to schoolThe Courier – by Brandon K. Scott

A 28-year-old woman was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison for planting a pistol in a child’s backpack and anonymously reporting him to the school.

Heather Hodges, who pleaded guilty to unlawful carrying of a weapon on restricted premises in exchange for the dismissal of two lesser charges, was the live-in girlfriend of the boy’s father but they had struggled as a blended family.

Hodges wanted to teach 13-year-old James Bailey McKeegan a lesson for what she considered to be the mistreatment of her own children, ages seven and four.  

So she took her boyfriend’s 9-millimeter Smith and Wesson handgun, replaced the child’s cologne and deodorant in his backpack, and then called Magnolia Junior High School from a nearby payphone to report him by name.

District Court Judge Kelly Case echoed lead prosecutor Vince Santini’s statement that Hodges was “evil,” and said he thought it was ironic how Hodges’ motivation was wanting to protect her children.

McKeegan was eventually taken from school to the Montgomery County’s juvenile detention facility until Hodges confessed days later, after multiple interviews with investigators.

He no longer lives with his father and has since moved to Louisiana to stay with his mother.

“(McKeegan’s) life will never be the same,” Judge Case told Hodges in sentencing. “It bothers me greatly. I have a bigger issue, and that’s the school. Children going to school need to be safe. They don’t need to be worried about having guns show up at school. This is not Beirut. This is Montgomery County, Texas. For whatever reason you decided to blame that child, I find irrelevant. The fact that you’re not on drugs, or have a major personality disorder puts you in the category of being someone I would call ‘evil.’

“I cannot fathom why you thought this would be a good idea. It makes no sense to me.”

The Precinct 5 Constable’s Office responded to Magnolia Junior High School on a Monday morning, November 5, 2012, for an abrupt anonymous phone call made to the school advising McKeegan had taken a gun to the school.

Assistant Principal Donna Covarrubias, who testified Thursday, was the administrator who sought McKeegan out of gym class and searched the bag.

Covarrubias said the boy seemed believable in not knowing the gun was there, from allowing her to search the bag without hesitation, from the look on his face when she found the gun.

“He was very believable,” Covarrubias said. “When he saw the gun, his face turned stark white.”

McKeegan faced expulsion at school and potential criminal charges. School administrators contacted Deputy Scott Collins from the Constable’s Office, who asked for a Sheriff’s Office investigator to interview McKeegan.

Retired MCSO investigator Mike Price said this was an important move, because of his experience as an interrogator, since it took multiple interviews to get Hodges to open up about what happened and her motives.

“It was very unusual,” Price said. “Initially, we wanted to know what was (McKeegan’s) intent with the pistol. Did he bring it to school to harm someone, or just to show to his friends? He kept insisting that he knew he brought a gun to school, but he didn’t realize it until the principal found the gun in his backpack. He was insistent.

“He was so consistent with his story and he came across so sincere, not just emotionally, but how he just stayed with his story and would not waver from it, that my position was that there’s something to this. I was the lone wolf at that point.”

Video evidence shows Hodges denying any involvement or knowledge of how the gun ended up in the backpack, or the anonymous call she made from the nearby payphone.

Hodges even said “it hurt her feelings” when Price told her of McKeegan’s theory that she must have planted the gun.

But investigators had tracked the phone call and could place McKeegan’s vehicle at the location with the time the call was made. The voice in the anonymous call also clearly matched Hodges’ in the tape-recorded interview with police.

“It’s not the typical way a gun is found on the premise of a school,” Price said. “That, going along with what McKeegan had consistently told me, made me very suspicious. …

“It took the District Attorney’s Office a couple of days to do some research to determine what charges to file, because none of us had ever heard of anything like this taking place before. I’ve never seen it, talked to anybody who’s heard of it. It’s very unusual and very unique.



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