BREMERTON, Wash. -- Patrick Cochran said he was simply trying to do right by his family and fulfill his dying mother's request when he took in his brother's three children.
But over the past two weeks -- since a handgun his 9-year-old nephew brought to his Bremerton elementary school discharged and seriously injured a classmate -- he's been subjected to scrutiny he never could have imagined.
Police detectives, child-welfare workers and probation officers have been to his home, combed through his family's background and belongings.
Strangers feel free to criticize and condemn. They've said the boy and his siblings are doomed, that Cochran is a worthless and unfit guardian with a "volatile, unstable" home.
"It hurts me, but I can take it," the 41-year-old bachelor with no children of his own said during an interview Wednesday. "I'm worried about the kids and how this will affect the rest of their lives."
Cochran's nephew pleaded guilty Tuesday to three criminal charges resulting from the accidental shooting Feb. 22 at Armin Jahr Elementary School. He was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to undergo counseling.
The wounded girl, Amina Kocer-Bowman, 8, remains in Seattle's Harborview Medical Center in serious condition. Police said she was hit by a single gunshot when the handgun fired from inside the boy's backpack.
"We're heartbroken for her," Cochran said of Amina. "We can't sleep at night. I would do anything to go back and change what happened."
Cochran said he's not trying to make excuses for what his nephew did. It was plain wrong to bring a handgun to school, and the boy knew it. And he's not trying to justify his decision to let the children visit their mother unsupervised.
Police believe the boy obtained the .45-caliber handgun during a visit to the home of his mother, Jamie Lee Passmore, and her boyfriend, Douglas L. Bauer, just days before the shooting. Both are wanted on arrest warrants for allegedly allowing access to the handgun.
In hindsight, Cochran said allowing the visit was a bad call. But, he said, the children love their parents despite their past chemical addictions and criminal records. He said Passmore has been clean and sober for several years.
She was working and living with a man who had a good job and seemed like "a good guy," he said.
"She was doing better than she ever had," he said. "I thought it was good for the kids to see her, but I never in a million years thought there were guns there, and I never would have let them go if I'd known."
The boy's parents relinquished custody of the boy and his two siblings about three years ago. They were then adopted by their maternal grandmother -- Cochran's mother. After she died of cancer in 2010, Cochran was appointed their legal guardian.
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