ST. JOHNS, Arizona – Residents of this tight-knit Arizona community say the time has come to try to somehow put behind them the nerve-rattling double homicide case against a 9-year-old boy whom authorities accuse in the fatal shootings of his father and another man.
"I think we'd all just like to get on with our lives and forget all about it," said Christine Moulton, 54, who has lived in St. Johns for nearly 30 years.
The boy faced two counts of premeditated murder in the Nov. 5 deaths of his father, 29-year-old Vincent Romero, and 39-year-old Timothy Romans, who rented a room in the family's home.
In a deal with prosecutors, the boy, over the objections of his mother, pleaded guilty Thursday to negligent homicide in Romans' death and the murder charge in his father's death was dropped. The boy's plea spares the eastern Arizona community from what would have been an emotional trial.
For Brennen Overson, who knew the victims and the boy, each time the media flooded the 4,000-person community, it reminded the town of the shocking crimes.
"We don't want to forget Vince or (the boy)," Overson said. "We don't want to forget Tim, either, but that's just a bad memory. Nobody needs to remember that."
The boy used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot the men as they returned home from work, then ran to a neighbor's house, police said. Authorities did not initially consider him a suspect, but questioned him again after Romans' wife raised suspicions. In a videotaped police interview, the boy admitted pulling the trigger.
No motive was ever revealed, and his defense lawyer said it is unlikely any more details would come out now that the plea deal has been made.
Apache County Superior Court Judge Michael Roca is deciding the boy's fate. The options include the boy serving time in a county juvenile lockup, probation, being institutionalized for treatment or living with relatives.
Residents hoped the crimes would not ruin the boy's life and that he would get the treatment attorneys say he needs. The boy was 8 years old at the time of the shootings, just one year over Arizona's age limit to be considered delinquent.
"If he gets treatment, I'm all for it," said Michaela Tschirhart, 44. "There's something going on in that boy's head. Whatever caused him to do something like that is amazing."
Marc Wheeler, 23, said the boy didn't seem like a bad kid and believed he pleaded guilty "to end it all and get it over with."
"I think he should've fought it to the end," he said.
John Andreas, a spokesman for the Romans' family, said the case sends a message that children won't be held accountable for crimes.
"It's funny how the law works, and in this case, there is no law," he said.
The juvenile justice system is geared more toward rehabilitating young offenders instead of locking them up, and defense attorney Ron Wood said he will argue against any jail time.
Linda Lucero, 50, a St. Johns resident who has a 9-year-old granddaughter, said she does not believe jail time would benefit the boy.
"I hope he does get some help," said Lucero. "I think he does need some treatment. I don't think he realized what he really has done."