A 15-year-old Catawba County boy admitted in court that he fired the bullet that hit a 5-year-old girl in the head as she rode on Interstate 40 in February.
After making the admission in court Wednesday, the boy, who will be 16 next month, said he was "very sorry" and that it was the first time he'd ever fired a rifle.
Rachel Sanchez, now 6, is blind and struggles with speech and learning problems. She was struck while riding in the back of her grandfather's sport utility vehicle.
In making the admission, the boy agreed to conditions that include meeting Rachel before the end of the year. The boy is required to complete a wilderness boot camp program, serve 12 months probation, stay out of trouble at school and make good grades.
Also, the boy must obey a curfew and submit to electronic monitoring for the next 60 days.
Rachel and her younger sister were visiting for the weekend when Steve Lackey and his wife, Kris, took them out on the snowy evening of Feb. 17. They'd eaten at a Hickory restaurant and were returning to their Conover home when the back window glass exploded.
The boy said he went to the home of a friend he'd known briefly, who lived near I-40 in Conover. He planned to spend the night and he said he thought they would be playing video games. Instead, the friend suggested they shoot at targets in the yard with a .22 rifle.
The friend's father gave the boys two bullets. The friend fired the first shot and hit the ground, Assistant District Attorney Johnny Turner said. The boys said they were shooting at a stump between them and the interstate.
The friend handed over the rifle, Turner said, and the boy raised the rifle and followed a gray or silver vehicle. The boy said he was shooting at the stump and never meant to hit a car.
Within days of the shooting, the boy admitted to Conover police that he'd fired toward I-40 and two days later told them he'd shot at the vehicle's tires, it was disclosed in court Wednesday.
"There's not enough punishment that could make absolution for what (the boy) did to our granddaughter," Steve Lackey said in a statement to the court. "That day, he took part of our lives."
"I hope he goes through life knowing what he's done to another human being," he said.
Rachel's parents, Michael and Stefanie Sanchez, were not in court and have said their efforts are needed with Rachel as she continues to recover.
The boy said he's not sure how he feels about meeting Rachel, but he knows what he'll say to her.
"I'm just going to tell her that she's a real special little girl, and that I hope her sight gets better, and that I feel real bad for her," he said. Asked if he would also tell her he's sorry, the boy replied, "Yes, very sorry."