BURLINGTON, Colo. – Prosecutors plan to charge a 12-year-old Colorado boy with killing his parents and wounding two of his younger siblings, in a case that has left residents of this rural farming and ranching community in mourning and disbelief.
District attorney Robert Watson said Thursday he plans to file two counts of first-degree murder and other charges against the boy by the end of Friday. He has not yet decided whether to try to prosecute the boy as an adult.
Residents of this city of about 3,700, meanwhile, expressed bewilderment by the accusations, noting the family was deeply religious and the homeschooled 12-year-old boy was a volunteer greeter at their church.
"He was pleasant, helpful, a good spirit, a good kid," said The Rev. Ron Lee of the Evangelical Free Church. "I'm so shocked."
Tom Ward, a public defender representing the boy, declined to comment.
Steve Johnson of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation said the 12-year-old called 911 Tuesday evening and said at least three people had been shot at his home.
When officers arrived, they found the bodies 50-year-old Charles Long and his 51-year-old wife, Marilyn, Johnson said. Two of the couple's children were wounded — a 5-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy.
Authorities say the children were critically injured and taken to a Denver hospital. Family members are said to be optimistic about their recovery.
It was unclear whether the 12-year-old suffered any injuries. Warrants in the case are sealed, and authorities haven't discussed a possible motive or detailed how the alleged attacks unfolded. They also haven't said how the parents died and how the younger children were injured.
Burlington, near the Kansas border, has no juvenile detention facility so the boy was being held in Greeley. He made a court appearance during a closed session Wednesday.
Watson plans to file charges in juvenile court and then decide whether to ask a judge to move the case to regular court. He said he'll take into account the community's wishes as well as the boy's circumstances — such as whether he has any mental health problems — as he makes that decision.
"I have to be fair to both the community and this young man," Watson said.
Friends who gathered Wednesday for a candlelight vigil outside the family's home said the Long children were homeschooled and the family was deeply religious, attending one neighborhood church on Saturdays and another on Sundays.
"You'd always see them around town, volunteering for stuff," Ronnie Speakman said. "He worked for Frito-Lay, and you would always see him stacking chips in the aisle, always a smile on his face."
Lee said the boy missed services on Sunday because of a conflict with a school activity but called the church to make sure there was a substitute greeter.
"He's not your typical 12-year-old," Lee said.
Charles Long served as an elder at the Evangelical Free Church, and Marilyn Long served as director of the church's children's ministry.
The couple had seven children, ranging in age from 5 to their mid-20s, but the adult children were no longer living at home. Lee said the injured children were Sarah, 5, and Ethan, 9.
Greg James, an elder at the church, said he visited the family — including older siblings and the children's grandmother — at The Children's Hospital in suburban Denver, where the two children are recovering. He said the family was hopeful and optimistic about their recovery.
Lee said there weren't any changes in jobs, housing, or schooling that the family talked about or any outward signs that might provide a clue as to what happened.
Watson said his sprawling judicial district on Colorado's sparsely populated Eastern Plains normally goes two or three years without a single slaying. However, he said six people have faced murder charges in the district since August.
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