- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2008

ST. JOHNS, Ariz. | By all accounts, he was a good boy. No problems in school. No disruptions in his religious education classes at St. Johns Catholic Church, where he was to mark his First Communion this year.

So police and neighbors in the 8-year-old’s small eastern Arizona community are at a loss to explain why he would have used a .22-caliber rifle to kill his father and another man at their home.

“That child, I don’t think he knows what he did, and it was brutal,” said the family priest, the Very Rev. John Paul Sauter.

Police say the boy killed his father, Vincent Romero, 29, and Timothy Romans, 39, on Wednesday. The men worked together, and Mr. Romans had been renting a room at the house, prosecutors said.

The boy, who faces two counts of premeditated murder, did not act on the spur of the moment, St. Johns Police Chief Roy Melnick said. Police are looking into whether he might have been abused.

“I’m not accusing anybody of anything at this point,” he said Saturday. “But we’re certainly going to look at the abuse part of this. He’s 8 years old. He just doesn’t decide one day that he’s going to shoot his father and shoot his father’s friend for no reason. Something led up to this.”

The boy’s father and stepmother had just married in September, and his mother had just come for a visit the weekend before the killings, officials said.

On Friday, a judge ordered a psychological evaluation of the boy. Under Arizona law, charges can be filed against anyone 8 or older.

The boy had no record of complaints with Arizona Child Protective Services, said Apache County Attorney Brad Carlyon.

“He had no record of any kind, not even a disciplinary record at school,” he said. “He has never been in trouble before.”

Mr. Romero was from a family of avid hunters and wanted to make sure that the boy wasn’t afraid of guns and knew how to handle them, Father Sauter said. The boy’s stepmother had suggested he have a BB gun, the priest said.

It’s not unusual in a Western state with liberal gun laws for children to learn early how to shoot small animals in the company of their fathers. But it might have been too much for an 8-year-old, Father Sauter said Saturday.

In a sign of the emotional and legal complexities of the case, police are pushing to have the boy tried as an adult even as they investigate possible abuse, Chief Melnick said. If convicted as a minor, the boy could be sent to juvenile detention until he turns 18.

The boy’s attorney, Benjamin Brewer, said his client is generally in good spirits.

“He’s scared,” he said. “He’s trying to be tough, but he’s scared.”

Mr. Romero had full custody of the child. The boy’s mother had visited St. Johns from Mississippi last weekend and returned to Arizona after the shootings, Mr. Carlyon said.

Officers who were called to the home in St. Johns, a town of 4,000 about 170 miles northeast of Phoenix, found one victim just outside the front door and the other dead in an upstairs room, Chief Melnick said.

The boy had gone to a neighbor’s house and said he thought his father was dead, Mr. Carlyon said.

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