NEW CASTLE, Pa. – Good student. Starting quarterback. Aspiring hunter. By most accounts, 11-year-old Jordan Brown was a typical boy in his rural Pennsylvania community, albeit raised mostly by his father after his mother gave him up.
So it baffles Jordan's friends and neighbors that he is accused of taking a 20-gauge youth shotgun he got from his father for Christmas and fatally shooting his father's pregnant fiancee, the woman who tried hardest to be a mother to him.
"There were no red lights, there were no indications that we should have done something differently," said Timothy McNamee, superintendent of the Mohawk Area School District, noting there were no reports Jordan was bullied or was having problems in school or at home.
Authorities say the Feb. 20 killing of 26-year-old Kenzie Marie Houk in Wampum, a small community about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh where nearly everyone knows everyone, was premeditated. Police say Jordan threw the spent shell casing in the woods, got on the bus and went to school.
Jordan has been charged as an adult with double homicide. If he is convicted as an adult, he faces life in prison. If his case gets moved to a juvenile court, he would probably spend the next 10 years in a secure juvenile facility.
Jordan's mother, Mildred Krause, was just four months pregnant with him when she first entered a courtroom to battle his father, Christopher Brown.
At that time, in March 1997, Krause filed a protection of abuse order against Brown, claiming he drank, did drugs and had threatened to harm her. Apparently unaware Krause was pregnant with his son, Brown was ordered to stay away from her, an order later expunged, according to court records and Brown's attorney, Dennis Elisco.
Immediately after Jordan was born on Aug. 30, 1997, Krause contacted Lawrence County Children and Youth Services requesting that they take custody of the child so her mother could adopt him, according to court documents. Not having the father's consent, the agency declined her request.
Brown, meanwhile, tipped off by Krause's grandmother and brother that she was having his baby in secret, filed an emergency petition with the court, opposing the move to have the child put up for adoption and demanding full custody of his son.
In a back-and-forth battle resolved when Jordan was about 2 months old, a court ruled Krause and Brown would share custody, with the mother getting him four days a week and the father three.
But on Feb. 5, 1999, with the consent of both parents, Christopher Brown was awarded full custody of his 18-month-old son. Court records don't indicate why.
Friends and family say that from February 1999 on, Krause had little contact with her son, entering and exiting his life at will. They say Brown was a good father and spent a lot of quality time with his son.
The instability that characterized Jordan's formative years, including the fact he might have felt rejected by his biological mother, could have influenced his later behavior, said Daniel Shaw, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Pittsburgh.
"You can easily say it's a risk factor, a very important one, in early childhood that has been linked to ... antisocial behaviors," Shaw said. However, "it's not usually going to result in the child killing someone at age 11."
Christopher Brown, Jordan's father, refused to be interviewed for this story but answered a few questions through his attorney. A phone call to a phone number for the boy's mother's family rang unanswered. A person answering a phone at an address listed for the Krause family said she no longer lived there.
Through Elisco, Brown said Jordan was a good student, pulling mostly As and Bs, his favorite subjects being math and science. In the past two years, Jordan was the starting quarterback for his midget football team and also played baseball.
Jordan's school district serves about 1,785 students in the rolling farmland of rural western Pennsylvania. There were about 20 students in his class, and he probably knew many of the other 125 fifth-graders through baseball and football, said McNamee, the superintendent.
In May 2008, Jordan's father began dating Houk. By Christmas, they were engaged and had moved into a farmhouse together, along with Jordan and Houk's two daughters, ages 7 and 4. Houk was already about six months pregnant.
Houk's family said their daughter tried to include Jordan in everything, in part to compensate for the missing mother figure in his life.
Willard Houk, Kenzie's uncle, said he stopped at the farmhouse a short time after Kenzie and Christopher moved in. He took Kenzie's girls for spins on his motorcycle. Then, Kenzie's 7-year-old reminded him that Jordan needed to get a ride too, "because he's a part of our family now," he said.
Jordan got his ride, but Houk said it seemed strange to him that unlike the girls, who were "bubbly and jumpy," Jordan was barely excited. It made Houk think Jordan needed more men in his life, and he was determined to help.
So at Christmas, Willard Houk bought Jordan a present, like he did for the girls. And Jordan got a 20-gauge youth model shotgun from his father, the one police said he used to shoot Houk in the back of the head.
Like many other kids in the area, Jordan began target shooting with his dad in preparation for the 2009 hunting season, when, at age 12, he would be old enough under Pennsylvania law to get a hunting license.
Father and son would shoot targets in the back yard, which police say helped Houk's 7-year-old daughter identify the sound of the gunshot she heard the morning her mother was killed.
By Valentine's Day, Willard Houk and Kenzie's father, Jack, thought the boy was a good enough shot to participate in a turkey shoot, so they took Jordan along. When he had a hard time handling his 20-gauge, Willard Houk let the boy use his 12-gauge.
Jordan beat out the older, more experienced men, hitting closest to the target and winning the prize turkey.
"He was ecstatic about that," Willard Houk said, noting it was the most emotion he had ever seen the boy express.
But Kenzie's family said that despite their efforts — and those made by Kenzie — Jordan had difficulty adjusting to his new life.
Debbie Houk said Jordan just "bucked her (Kenzie) a lot when his dad wasn't around." His father, she said, got involved, warning the boy not to disrespect his future stepmother.
Kenzie's brother-in-law, Jason Kraner, said that Jordan also told his son "he was going to pop Kenzie in the head and pop both kids," but that no one believed he was serious.
"As far as I was concerned, he was a typical 11-year-old boy who wanted to have fun," Willard Houk said.
But Jordan's attorney, Elisco, denied there were tensions between Jordan and his new family.
"He had a very good relationship with Kenzie," Elisco said. "The accusations of him having rage or warning signs of violence are unfounded."