BIG PRAIRIE, Ohio – A 10-year-old boy suspected in his mother's shooting death argued with her beforehand about whether to carry firewood into their home, his uncle said Tuesday.
The boy, who had a gun rack mounted to his bedroom wall, has been charged with murder as a juvenile and entered the equivalent of a not guilty plea in court. His mother, 46-year-old Deborah McVay, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head Sunday night in Big Prairie, a tiny rural town of rolling hills and fields in central Ohio.
McVay's brother, Tony Miller, said his nephew argued with his mother just before she died because he didn't want to carry in the firewood.
"He had anger issues, and she overlooked those anger issues," said Miller, who lives in Louisville, Ky. "It was her son. She loved him very much."
Four weapons were found in the boy's bedroom after the shooting. On his bed were the .22-caliber rifle believed to be the weapon that killed his mother and a 12-gauge shotgun. On the gun rack were two more .22-caliber rifles, Holmes County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Nathan Fritz said. Paramedics found McVay lying facedown on her living room floor, and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
It's a rarity for a young child to be suspected of killing anyone. According to FBI crime statistics, 11 children ages 5 to 12 were murder defendants in 2009 — 10 boys and one girl.
Authorities went to the house, a two-car garage converted into a living space, after a neighbor called a sheriff's dispatcher. The neighbor who called 911 said the boy came to her home to report the emergency. On a recording of the call, the dispatcher says, "I want to know what happened, tell him."
Then, after a garbled exchange, a voice in the background says, "I shot my mom. I shot her with a gun."
McVay had separated from her husband, Mike McVay, two weeks ago, Miller said. The guns found in the boy's room once belonged to his grandfather, but they were given to him by his father, Miller said. He didn't know when the boy received the guns.
Before Deborah McVay died, she had argued with her husband about the weapons' presence in her son's room, Miller said.
"She knew, and she did not like it, and she kept bringing the issue up about getting rid of them," he said. "But every time she did, there was an argument about it with the father."
Mike McVay could not be reached for comment about his wife's death.
The 10-year-old appeared in court Monday in an orange jumpsuit, his hands and feet cuffed. A judge ordered he remain in Richland County Juvenile Detention as authorities investigate the shooting.
"It's not unusual for boys of that age to hunt and shoot," Fritz said. "I think it's unusual that those weapons were permitted to be in the boy's bedroom."
The boy lived with his mother and 15-year-old sister, who was present at the time of the shooting, in the small one-story dwelling, Fritz said. An empty shell casing belonging to a .22-caliber rifle was found in the living area after the shooting.
Ron Martin, McVay's next-door neighbor, said he'd seen the boy using a BB gun in his backyard, like other children in the area, but never saw him use it inappropriately.
"He wasn't going around threatening people or anything like that," Martin said.
The investigation has unearthed previous disciplinary problems in the boy's life but no serious violence. In December 2006, Deborah McVay called the sheriff's office to complain about a school bus driver who disciplined the boy, Fritz said.
"He was being disruptive, and the bus driver had to stop the bus," Fritz said, "and grabbed him by the jacket and sat him down."
No charges were filed by the family against the driver.
In September 2007, the boy was disciplined for hitting his elementary school principal in the face and chest with a dustpan, Fritz said. The principal had been escorting the boy to the gymnasium for a time out after he had been disruptive in class, and the boy grabbed the dustpan when they reached the gym, Fritz said.
The incident was reported to the sheriff's office as an "unruly complaint" and was referred to the prosecutor's office, but sheriff's deputies didn't know the outcome.
Killbuck Elementary School Principal David Wade confirmed that the boy was a student there for years but wouldn't comment further. He deferred all inquiries to the district's superintendent, who didn't respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The boy was transferred to Clark Elementary School, which specializes in children with behavioral problems or special needs, Fritz said. The principal at Clark Elementary also declined to comment.
Authorities do not plan to prosecute the boy as an adult, and his defense attorney plans to argue for the boy's release so that he can stay with a family member.
Associated Press writer Thomas J. Sheeran contributed to this report from Cleveland.
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