Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Police & Fire

Boy, 14, is charged in shooting death

Victim's schoolmate held pending pretrial

WAUSEON -- A 14-year-old Wauseon boy was charged Thursday with the accidental shooting death Wednesday of a schoolmate inside a third boy's house.

After being charged with delinquency in connection with negligent homicide during an initial appearance in Fulton County Juvenile Court, Felipe Villanueva, Jr., was ordered held at the Juvenile Detention Center in Stryker pending a pretrial hearing Wednesday.

Dressed in a yellow juvenile-detention uniform, young Villanueva softly said "yes" four times as Judge Michael J. Bumb asked him to acknowledge the charge and explanations of his rights in the legal system. Attorney Clayton Gerbitz then entered a "not true" plea on his client's behalf. The term is used in juvenile court in place of "not guilty."

Wauseon police released no further details Thursday about the circumstances of the shooting of Michael Schwartz, 13, also of Wauseon, in a house at 444 Howard Ave. Among details either unknown or undisclosed are the type of gun involved and to whom it belongs.

After performing an autopsy, Dr. Harry Murtiff, Fulton County coroner, reported late Thursday that the boy died from a shotgun pellet wound in the right side of his chest.

The incident was reported at 6:56 a.m. Wednesday by a caller who characterized it as a drive-by shooting. Investigators quickly determined the drive-by element to be false but that young Villanueva had not deliberately shot young Schwartz, who was dead on arrival at Fulton County Health Center.

Along with young Villanueva, a third boy, who lives in the house, was present and questioned by police after the shooting, then released.

Marianne Garza and Jennifer Dunn, the victim's grandmother and mother, respectively, said they accept the police finding that the shooting was accidental. They were surprised, however, when Judge Bumb told young Villanueva that, as a juvenile, he faces a maximum of 90 days' detention and a $250 fine plus court costs if he is convicted, saying the potential punishment is not as severe as they had expected.

The accused also could lose driving privileges for up to four years and be subject to community control, the judge said.

Pleading for his client's release from custody, Mr. Gerbitz said young Villanueva has had "no prior adjudications" or disciplinary problems at school, is a good student who played football and baseball, had a weekend job at a local roller rink, and had no firearms in his home.

But Judge Bumb said the seriousness of the charge and the possibility that "he may cause injury to himself or to others" warranted detention at least until the hearing Wednesday.

"I'm glad he's staying in jail," Ms. Garza said afterward. "But I really want them to get the guy who had the guns in his house."

"We've got guns in our house, but they're put up, under lock and key," Ms. Dunn said.

Chief Torbet said how the boys had access to the firearm used in the shooting remains a subject of the on-going police investigation.

He described the boy who lived at 444 Howard -- like young Villanueva and young Schwartz, a student at nearby Wauseon Middle School -- as "an uncharged juvenile suspect." The boy remained unnamed by police because of that status.

Ms. Dunn said Michael, the middle of her three sons, and Felipe were friends who often walked to school together and had stopped at the third boy's house on their way.

Felipe, the mother said, "is a good kid" who had often visited her family's home.

"He's going to live with it [the shooting] for the rest of his life," Ms. Dunn said.

The shooting, she said, needs to be a lesson for everyone else.

Ms. Garza, meanwhile, said that before the family is satisfied with the legal proceedings, "We want to know exactly what happened."

Before the hearing, Wauseon police officers met briefly in a courthouse hallway with young Schwartz's relatives to caution them to stay away from the Villanueva family's residence, where two men described as "uncles" were reportedly seen in the yard late Wednesday.

Ms. Dunn denied that anyone from her family had gone there, stating that everyone had been at her house until late Wednesday evening.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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