ST. JOHNS, Ariz. – An 8-year-old boy charged in the shooting deaths of his father and another man appeared in handcuffs at a court hearing, drawing tears from some in the audience, and the judge slapped a gag order on the shocking case.
While friends and neighbors disputed a suggestion that the boy had been abused, the judge on Monday proclaimed the gag order necessary to prevent "loose-cannon pronouncements."
The boy — who has been charged as a juvenile with two counts of murder — sat restlessly next to his mother, fidgeting, tapping his fingers on the table, and swiveling and rocking in his chair. His mother declined to comment as she left the courthouse.
Much of the hearing focused on court-ordered mental health and competency evaluations of the boy. Judge Michael Roca gave defense attorneys until Friday to either find an expert to evaluate the boy's competency or to agree to one suggested by the prosecutors.
Defense attorney Benjamin Brewer also asked for access to the crime scene — a two-story home where police say the boy's father, Vincent Romero, a 29-year-old employee of a construction company, and his co-worker and roommate, Timothy Romans, 39, were shot with a .22-caliber rifle on Wednesday.
Brewer complained that police questioned the third-grader without representation from a parent or attorney and did not advise him of his rights.
Hundreds of mourners packed a funeral Mass on Monday for Romero at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. Romans' funeral was scheduled for later in the week.
Relatives and friends painted a picture of Romero as a caring father who seemed to be doing all he could to raise a polite and respectful boy.
"They were always together doing things as a family, fishing, hunting," said Carlos Diaz, a cousin of Romero's current wife.
About 600 mourners filled the church in this rural town of about 4,000 people 170 miles northeast of Phoenix. Those who could not get in crowded around an open door or sat on chairs set up outside. Romero, an avid hunter, was in a casket with a camouflage lid.
Police said Romero's son planned and methodically carried out the killings, and confessed. Authorities would not discuss specifics of the confession.
Police Chief Roy Melnick said over the weekend that police were looking into whether the boy might have been abused. He would not say who might be under scrutiny. The gag order was issued just before Melnick was to hold a news conference to discuss the case.
Prosecutors said there was no record of any complaints filed about the boy with Arizona Child Protective Services and that the youngster had no disciplinary record at school.
Romero had full custody of the child. The boy's mother lives in Mississippi, according to officials. Police said the boy's stepmother was not home at the time of the shooting.
Carl Hamblin, a neighbor who had once coached the father in Little League, said he often saw Romero and his son at football games or out in the yard, playing baseball.
"He appeared to be doing the right things as a dad," Hamblin said.
Neighbors Flynt and Amber Smith described the father and son as "two peas in a pod."
"They were good people," Amber Smith said.
Tanya Romans said her husband, Timothy, was a devoted father who closely followed the sporting events of his two daughters and routinely texted loving messages to his family.
Romans said her husband worked a construction job in St. Johns for about a year while his family lived in metropolitan Phoenix.
The move to metro Phoenix was meant to put their daughters closer to college.
Though her husband lived apart for much of the week, Tanya Romans says he returned on weekends and sent his love through calls and text messages.