MILLERSBURG, Ohio -- A 10-year-old boy suspected in his mother's shooting death may have argued with her beforehand about whether to carry firewood into the home, a sheriff's deputy said Tuesday.
The boy has been charged with murder as a juvenile and entered the equivalent of a not guilty plea in court. His mother, 46-year-old Deborah McVay, was found dead of a single gunshot wound to the head Sunday night in Big Prairie, located about midway between Cleveland and Columbus.
The preliminary investigation indicates an argument may have precipitated the shooting, Holmes County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Nathan Fritz.
"There may have been an argument over whether he should bring firewood into the house," Fritz said, "and possibly escalated from there."
Four weapons were found in the boy's bedroom. On his bed were the .22 caliber rifle believed to be the weapon that killed his mother and a 12-gauge shotgun. On a gun rack mounted to the wall hung two more .22 caliber rifles, Fritz said. Paramedics found McVay lying facedown on her living room floor, and she was pronounced dead at the scene, said Holmes County Sheriff Tim Zimmerly.
Authorities went to the house, in rolling farmland, after a neighbor called a sheriff's dispatcher to say McVay's son had come to her home and said he had just shot his mother.
"I'm her neighbor. I'm over here. She's bleeding from her head," the neighbor tells a dispatcher. When the dispatcher asks "Is she breathing?" the neighbor answers, "no, she's bleeding."
"The neighbors came over and got me and said the mom got shot in the head," the neighbor says.
Family members have told authorities that the guns were a Christmas present from the boy's now-deceased grandfather, though exactly when they came into his possession are unclear. The weapons were not new, but authorities do not know whether the boy had used them before, Fritz said.
"It's not unusual for boys of that age to hunt and shoot," Fritz said. "I think it's unusual that those weapons were permitted to be in the boy's bedroom."
The boy lived with his mother and 15-year-old sister -- who was present at the time of the shooting -- in the small one-story dwelling, Fritz said. The home was a former garage that had been converted into a living space with three bedrooms, he said. An empty shell casing belonging to a .22 caliber rifle was found in the living area after the shooting.
Several relatives live nearby, including Deborah McVay's mother, who resides in a mobile home on the same street, Fritz said.
The investigation has unearthed previous disciplinary problems in the 10-year-old's young life, but no serious violence. In December 2006, Deborah McVay called the sheriff's office to complain about a school bus driver who disciplined the boy, Fritz said.
"He was being disruptive and the bus driver had to stop the bus," Fritz said, "and grabbed him by the jacket and sat him down." No charges were filed by the family against the driver.
In September 2007, the boy was disciplined for hitting his elementary school principal in the face and chest with a dustpan, Fritz said. The principal had been escorting the boy to the gymnasium for a "time-out" after he had been disruptive in class, and the boy grabbed the dustpan when they reached the gym, Fritz said.
The incident was reported to the sheriff's office as an "unruly complaint" and referred to the prosecutor's office, but sheriff's deputies do not know the outcome.
Killbuck Elementary School Principal David Wade confirmed that the boy was a student there for a number of years, but would not comment further. He deferred all inquiries to the district's superintendent, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Sometime after that, the boy was transferred to Clark Elementary School, which specializes in children with behavioral problems or special needs, Fritz said. The principal at Clark Elementary also declined to comment.
County Prosecutor Steve Knowling said authorities do not plan to prosecute the boy as an adult. Defense attorney Andrew Hyde said he plans to argue for the boy's release so he can stay with a family member.
It's a rarity for a young child to be suspected of killing anyone. According to FBI crime statistics, 11 children ages 5 to 12 were murder defendants in 2009 -- 10 boys and one girl.
Hyde said he did not have the facts of the case, including any information on whether the shooting may have been accidental, and that he couldn't comment further.
McVay's body was transported to the Stark County Coroner's office for an autopsy. Results were expected on Tuesday.