JEFFERSON CITY — A 6-year-old has been taken into custody as the only suspect in the shooting death of his grandfather, said Cole County Sheriff John C. Hemeyer.
“Statements made lead us to believe he is responsible for the death of his grandfather,” Hemeyer said during a press conference Saturday night.
This was not an accident, he said.
The boy had been released from Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center on Monday.
Five days later, according to officials, he was returned to custody after his grandfather was found shot to death with a .22-caliber weapon.
The boy has a long history of mental problems beginning at the age of 2, Hemeyer said. This was his fourth or fifth time in the mental facility this year, he said. He had recently been expelled from the Jefferson City Public School District for biting students and trying to stab students and a teacher with a pencil. He has threatened people with knives in the past and had attacked younger siblings, some younger than the age of 2, he said.
“This is an extremely disturbed child who needs help badly,” he said.
Hemeyer said a neighbor called 9-1-1 at about 2:35 p.m. Friday after she found the boy, clothed only in a dirty shirt and underpants, waving his arms in the street. When the neighbor approached the boy, he told her that his 59-year-old grandfather was dead.
The 9-1-1 operator asked the neighbor to go to the boy’s house to check on the grandfather, Hemeyer said. At that point, the boy stood on the front porch of the grandfather’s house and told the neighbor that he knew where the gun was and went to retrieve it. The neighbor remained outside while the boy retrieved the shotgun, which deputies think he dug out of a closet.
When deputies arrived, they found that the man had been shot in the right armpit; the bullet had punctured his lungs and esophagus. He was pronounced dead at the scene and officials estimate his time of death at no earlier than 1:35 p.m.
The boy is being held in a treatment facility under the 19th Judicial Court. The weapon used to shoot the man appears to be a .22-caliber rifle, but ballistics tests by the Missouri State Highway Patrol have yet to confirm this. Those results could take more than a month, but the department has asked for special consideration to speed up the processing.
If the boy is found guilty, he can be detained by juvenile authorities until he is 18, Hemeyer said. He said that the boy can be committed to a mental facility indefinitely, however, if he is considered a continuing threat to society.
He is too young to be tried as an adult, Hemeyer said.
“To be culpable for what you do, you have to know the difference between right and wrong,” he said.
This incident is the saddest thing he’s seen in his 31 years in law enforcement, he said.
Less than five months ago Jefferson City also suffered the murders of three workers at the Modine Manufacturing Co. Plant after Jonathon Russell’s shooting spree on July 1. Following the shooting, which also left five co-workers injured, Russell drove to the Jefferson City Police Department where he exchanged gunfire with a police officer before he killed himself.
— Missourian reporters Allyson Longueira, Patrick Garvin, Gwyneth Gibby and Katy Kickham contributed to this report.