Eleven-year-old Jordan Brown shot his father's pregnant girlfriend in the back of the head while she was lying in bed in their rural western Pennsylvania farmhouse, then got on the school bus and went to school, authorities said Saturday.
At about 11 a.m. on Friday, the fifth grader was picked up from school by Pennsylvania State Police, who found 26-year-old Kenzie Marie Houk's body after her 4-year-old daughter told tree cutters working on the property she thought her mother was dead, Lawrence County District Attorney John Bongivengo said.
The boy then told police there was a suspicious black truck on the property that morning — possibly the man who feeds the cows — sending investigators to follow a false lead for about five hours, Bongivengo said.
Inconsistencies in Brown's description of the vehicle led police to re-interview the victim's 7-year-old daughter, who implicated the boy in the killing, Bongivengo said.
"She didn't actually eyewitness the shooting. She saw him with what she believed to be a shotgun and heard a loud bang," Bongivengo said. The gun was found in a "location we believe to be in the defendant's bedroom. It was a youth model 20-gauge shotgun."
"The 7-year-old was fearful and then, when she began talking, it became clear she was being consistent with what investigators had found," Bongivengo said.
By 3:30 a.m. Saturday, Brown had been charged as an adult with Houk's killing. Brown was arraigned and remains in Lawrence County Jail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
Brown's attorney Dennis Elisco said he met Saturday with the boy's father, Christopher Brown, and Bongivengo. He plans to file a motion to have the boy released on bail and move the case to juvenile court.
Elisco and police said they had no clear motive for the shooting. Elisco said the boy's father is "a mess. He's in a state of actual shock and disbelief." There was no prior indication the boy had a problem with Houk, he added.
"This is a tragic, extremely tragic situation and it's way too early to have any substantive comment," Elisco said.
Bongivengo would not say whether the boy had confessed to the shooting.
Houk was shot from behind and less than a foot away as she lay on her side, Lawrence County Coroner Russell Noga said.
The fetus, which was about 34 or 35 weeks old, died within minutes due to a lack of oxygen. The fetus was a 19.5 inch, 7.4 pound boy, he said.
The shotgun used in the killing is designed for children and has a shorter arm. Such weapons do not have to be registered, Bongivengo said, adding the weapon apparently belonged to Brown.
"It's typical of families that hunt and do those activities together," Bongivengo said. "It's really a hunting shotgun."
Houk was shot around 8 a.m. and probably died almost immediately, Noga said.
Police were not called until about 9 a.m. because Houk's 4-year-old daughter said she first watched cartoons and ate breakfast before going into her mother's room and finding her dead, Bongivengo said. Later, she told police she had not heard the gunshot, only "a muffled sound."
Houk's daughters are staying with Houk's parents, he added. Houk's father, Jack Houk, did not immediately respond to a call Saturday by The Associated Press. Houk lives in New Castle, a town about 10 miles from Wampum.
The small rural community of Wampum is about 45 miles from Pittsburgh. Houk rented the farmhouse less than a year ago, neighbors said, joining the neighborhood dotted with fields of cows and abandoned and burned-out trailers. The half-mile drive leading to the property was cordoned off with police tape early Saturday. A few police vehicles remained on the property, alongside farm equipment and an open barn filled with hay.
Cameron Tucker, 39, a neighbor who lived across the street from Houk, said the pregnant mother had been renting the home for no more than a year. Tucker's wife, Tara, sometimes drove Houk's 4-year-old daughter to the bus stop because she went to preschool with the Tuckers' 5-year-old. "She was very protective of her kids," he said of Houk, adding she seemed excited about her pregnancy.
Early Saturday, neighbors milled about outside their homes, watching the action around the Houk residence.
"The whole situation is heinous," Bongivengo said. "This is something that you wouldn't even think of in your worst nightmare, that you would have to charge an 11-year-old with the homicide of a 26-year-old."