KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The state has taken custody of six children who lived in the Kalamazoo home where their brother, 9, was shot and killed Thursday afternoon.
“There is a substantial risk of harm if the children… remain in the home with the parents at this time,” ruled Kalamazoo Circuit Court Referee Denise Noble.
The 9-year-old, who was pronounced dead at a hospital, lived at the home where the shooting occurred with his mom and seven brothers and sisters.
The children, four girls and three boys, range in age from seven months to 17 years.
Kalamazoo Police said the fatal shooting at the home on the corner of Lake and James Streets may have been accidental.
Investigators declined to confirm whether the children were home alone when the shooting occurred.
We also do not know who owned the gun nor who fired the fatal shot.
However, at a hearing in Kalamazoo Family Court Friday afternoon, the court referee noted police have been presented with two versions of what took place.
“One is that it was an accident and there was some coverup. Two is that there was somebody who maliciously hurt this child,” said Referee Denise Noble.
Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting told News 8 he will consider criminal charges depending on the outcome of the police investigation.
“If the investigation confirms this child was killed by either a self-inflicted or accidental discharge, we will be looking at the parents or the gun owner for criminal charges,” said Getting, who explained the charges could range from child abuse to manslaughter or even second-degree murder.
Getting noted second degree murder would be “extraordinary” because it requires a level of intentionality — the suspect would have to know his or her actions would lead to a substantial likelihood of death.
At the family court hearing, eight attorneys appeared via Zoom to represent the children’s six fathers.
The kids’ mother, Consuela Johnson, was also in court with her attorney.
“First of all, I want to say to the family, our sincerest condolences from, I think, everybody in the courtroom,” said Referee Denise Noble.
“This is a tragic event, and we will be treating it as seriously as it deserves.”
Johnson, 34, cried as she confirmed for the court the names and birthdates of her seven remaining children.
Referee Noble gave the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services temporary custody of six of Johnson’s children.
Noble allowed a seventh child — a 2-year-old girl — to stay in Lansing with her father, who attended the court hearing with an attorney.
An MDHHS worker reported Johnson was unable to identify any other blood relatives who could care for the children in lieu of foster care.
Johnson also told the family court referee she did not know the current whereabouts of three of the kids’ fathers, including that of the 9-year-old who died.
“He might be in Ohio…” Johnson said of the boy’s father.
She thought one of the other dads might be in jail in Illinois.
“All I know is Chicago. He might be incarcerated, but I don’t know. Last time I checked he was incarcerated,” said Johnson of the father of two of her children.
The father of Johnson’s youngest child, a 7-month-old girl, had apparently been staying off and on at the home where the shooting occurred.
“(He) spent nights at the home of his infant and therefore knew the home was below community standards and posed a risk of harm to the infant,” Referee Noble read from a court document.
Noble ordered supervised parenting time for the baby’s father, as well as the children’s mother.
But she also ordered the parents not to discuss the facts of the shooting with the children, which could negatively impact the police investigation.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Chris Ann Johnson offered a compromise.
“The parents cannot discuss the factual events of yesterday, June 24,” said Chris Ann Johnson.
“(However) if the children begin a conversation about the loss of their brother, (the parents) can console. If the children bring it up, so they initiate a conversation about their deceased brother, the mother can console, acknowledge the loss, be a support for them,” said Chris Ann Johnson.