GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Charges have been issued against two adults who authorities say are responsible for allowing a child to access a gun, which was later brought to a Grand Rapids elementary school.
Aubrey Wilson, 32, is accused of fourth-degree child abuse and Chelsea Berkley, 29, faces a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The 7-year-old student, a second grader, brought the unloaded handgun into Cesar E. Chavez Elementary on May 3. A different student reported to staff that the student had the gun. Teachers and staff searched the student’s backpack and found it. It was not loaded and did not have a magazine.
“This could’ve been a very dangerous incident and so I’m glad we could do something here to provide some closure, at least in this incident,” Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
He said Wilson is the child’s mother and Berkley is Wilson’s live-in fiancee. He said one of the suspects brought the gun into the home and the other left it in a place where the child could get to it.
“This case actually still remains open, because in investigating this case, we’ve discovered that this firearm was also stolen,” Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom added, saying that more charges may be forthcoming.
Becker said children under the age of 10 are presumed criminally incompetent under Michigan law, so the law does not hold them accountable. Instead, police and the prosecutor looked at actions by adults.
The child abuse charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The weapons charge is a five-year felony. Becker did not immediately know when arraignments would happen.
Berkley has been in the Kent County jail since November on an unrelated case. She was sentenced on Dec. 22 to a year in jail for first-degree retail fraud and credited with two days already served. She also has a 2019 conviction for first-degree retail fraud, which landed her a sentence of about nine months in jail.
‘HOLDING PARENTS ACCOUNTABLE’
There have been four cases of guns at GRPS middle or elementary schools this school year, which prompted the district to enact a mandatory backpack ban for the remainder of the school year. The most recent case was last week when a third grader brought a loaded gun to Stocking Elementary. No one was hurt.
“This is the first time and now the second time I’ve ever encountered a child that small having a gun in school,” the police chief said, “and to see it twice in a one-week period was very alarming.”
Winstrom said his detectives were still working on the Stocking case and hoped to be able to send it on to the prosecutor’s office soon for a decision on charges.
He said he didn’t think either the Chavez or Stocking students had any intention of harming anyone. He said police are considering them victims.
“At one point in time, I was a 7- and 8-year-old boy and I’ll tell you, if I’d had access to a firearm, I would have been interested in it. I would have been interested to hold it, to see it,” Winstrom said. “…I think it was just kids being kids that had an interest in it. There was no criminal intent at all.”
The chief said it’s important for gun owners to speak with children in their homes so they understand that guns are serious business and to keep the guns safely away from kids.
“(The gun at Stocking) was semi-automatic handgun that was fully loaded with a round in the chamber. So if that gun was manipulated, even through the bag, it could have gone off and killed a child,” he said. “So holding those parents accountable, letting parents know that they have a responsibility. If you are going to possess a gun — in (the Chavez) case, it wasn’t even a legally possessed gun — but if you’re going to possess a gun, you have to be a responsible gun owner.”
GRPD said it offers free trigger locks at its downtown headquarters.
Winstrom praised GRPS for creating an environment in which students felt comfortable telling adults about the guns so staff could act.
“We’re going to investigate and follow up on anything that we can do to make sure these guns are kept out of the hands of kids and kept out of the schools,” Becker said.
At its Monday evening meeting, the Grand Rapids school board passed a resolution encouraging safe gun storage.
“We want to make sure that our young people have safe homes to be in and that, even in the home outside of our care, that a gun or that weapon is stored safely and we have responsible owners. We know that when that happens, it decreases the level and the opportunity for our young people and our scholars to bring a gun to school,” GRPS Board of Education President Kimberley Williams said at the meeting.
—News 8’s Demetrios Sanders contributed to this report.