Parents insist son innocent of killing

The 6-year-old had a history
of problems, but would never try to kill, his parents say.
Monday, November 10, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:08 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Disputing statements made by the Cole County Sheriff, the parents of a 6-year-old boy who is the lone suspect in the shooting death of his grandfather think the shooting was an accident.

“There’s no way on earth (my son) would ever shoot his grandfather. Ever. He and his grandfather loved each other. He idolized his grandfather,” the boy’s father said.

The 59-year-old grandfather was found shot to death Friday afternoon in his home in Cole County. The man sustained a single gunshot wound to the armpit from a .22-caliber rifle. A neighbor found the boy waving for help in the middle of the street and called 9-1-1.

During a press conference Saturday night, Cole County Sheriff John C. Hemeyer said the shooting was not an accident. He said the boy recently had been expelled from the Jefferson City Public School District for biting and trying to stab students and a teacher with a pencil. Hemeyer said the boy had used knives during previous attacks and had attacked younger siblings. Officials have not identified the boy.

On Nov. 3, the boy was released from the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center, where he had been admitted for treatment after he attacked another family member, Hemeyer said. It was the fourth or fifth time the boy had been sent to a mental facility this year, Hemeyer said.

The boy’s father, 34, said his son attended Belair Elementary in Cole County before being sent to MMCH.

The parents are divorced. The father said his son stayed with him three or four times a week and lived with his mother in Boone County the rest of the week.

On Sunday afternoon, the boy’s father built a fire in his front yard next to his son’s toy car, metal wading pool and green, turtle-shaped sandbox. He was burning the bloodstained couch and chair from the home.

The father said his son might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but he said he doesn’t think it would cause him to commit the alleged crime.

“I’ve never seen him be violent,” he said.

The boy’s mother, who has full custody of the child, said her son has been violent toward her in the past, but she thinks the shooting was an accident.

“Maybe he brought the gun to his grandfather because he was curious about it, and his grandfather grabbed the gun, and it went off,” she said. “He was a great kid. He was an awesome kid.”

The father said he doesn’t know where his son is being held and has not seen or spoken with him since he left for work Friday morning.

“Now that the state has taken custody of him, who knows — I may never see him again,” he said.

The boy is being held at a treatment facility under the 19th Judicial Court. If the juvenile court considers the boy to be a continuing threat to society, he can be committed to a mental facility indefinitely.

The father said he and his son like to go to a lake in Jefferson City and walk around the concrete path surrounding the water. At night they played racing games, PacMan and chess on their PlayStation 2.

“Six years old and he can play chess,” the boy’s father said.

Late Friday afternoon, the father said police arrived at the plant nursery where he works and took him in for questioning about the shooting. The mother said she was brought in for questioning by police on Saturday.

“They just couldn’t believe a 6-year-old did it,” the father said.

Three friends of the boy live down the street from the grandfather’s house. Their mother, Michelle Wagner, said the suspect would come over and play ball in their back yard. She describes the boy as rowdy and as possibly having ADHD, but she said he never has been involved in violent incidents in the four years she has known him.

“The boy has some mental problems, but nothing to make him kill somebody,” she said.

The Missourian is withholding the names of the family members, three of whom share the same last name, to protect the juvenile’s identity .

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