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9-year-old accused of murder grew more aggressive before mom's killing, family says

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Fawn River Township — The 9-year-old boy was a handful.

When he wasn’t walking through neighbors’ yards with a flashlight, he was pointing his beloved BB gun at their children, said residents. One time, he fired the weapon at three children but didn’t strike them.

Pauline Randol

His behavior grew more aggressive the past few weeks, prompting his adoptive mother to schedule an appointment at a mental health clinic, said relatives.

Last Monday, one day before the appointment, authorities say the boy grabbed one of his father’s hunting rifles, pointed it at his mom and pulled the trigger. Pauline Randol, 51, was killed.

The youth was charged last week with murder, according to court records. Authorities haven't released details about the killing.

Randol had told a doctor she was worried where her son’s behavior was headed, said family members.

“She was so scared she was raising the next serial killer," said Harley Martin, 27, one of Randol's biological daughters.

The boy, who isn’t being named by The Detroit News because of his age, is one of the youngest persons ever charged with murder in the U.S.

A judge has ordered the 9-year-old boy to undergo a competency evaluation. Authorities will then try to sort out what to do about someone who is probably too young to know the difference between right and wrong.

St. Joseph County Sheriff's deputies stand outside the site where Pauline Randol was fatally shot in Fawn River Township.

During a hearing Tuesday at St. Joseph County Family Court, the youth looked around the courtroom, said family members. He was wondering where his mom was.

His attorney, T.J. Reed of Sturgis, declined to comment. The St. Joseph County Sheriff's Office referred questions to the Prosecutor's Office, which didn't respond to messages.

In another case involving a juvenile, Nathaniel Abraham of Pontiac was 11 when he was charged with fatally shooting a stranger outside a party store in 1997 and was convicted of murder two years later. At the time, he was the youngest person charged with homicide as an adult.

In November, a 10-year-old girl in Wisconsin was charged as an adult with the murder of an infant, according to the Associated Press. Wisconsin allows juveniles to be automatically tried in adult court for homicides.

In Michigan, anyone under the age of 10 is presumed incompetent to stand trial, according to a state statute. Such youths normally don’t have the intellectual or emotional capacity to think like an adult.

But Michigan allows prosecutors discretion in charging youths with murder and other violent crimes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which works on policy issues.

Meanwhile, residents of this rural enclave in southern Michigan struggled to understand what had happened just outside town. The shooting of a parent was shocking. The age of the alleged assailant was inconceivable.

“It doesn’t seem possible. How does he even get a gun?” Holly Galloway said while shopping in downtown Sturgis.

But people who knew the 9-year-old were less surprised.

When one neighbor learned Randol had been shot, she immediately suspected the son.

Indeed, to hear Randol family members tell it, the boy’s life had been troubled from the start.

Randol isn’t his biological mother. She started taking care of him when he was a baby and adopted him three years ago.

He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and seemed to suffer from other mental maladies, said family members.

"My brother was lost in his brain, and my mom was lost in watching him sink in his own mental illness," another sister, Reagan Martin, 23, told WWMT-TV of Kalamazoo.

Randol had been a nurse until quitting a few years ago to focus more attention on her son.

It was just like their mom to help the boy, first as a baby and then as a troubled youth, said her daughters.

She was a cheerful, funny person who would do anything for anyone, they said.

"She would do it all over again if she had to,” said Harley Martin.

 Known in neighborhood

In the boy’s neighborhood, he had a reputation as a hellion.

Fawn River Township is a mix of farmland and homes. He lived in a trailer across the street from a farm. Toys were strewn across his front and back yard.

He sometimes strolled along the two-lane blacktop outside his home clutching his BB gun, said neighbors. One time, he showed Beverly Whitcomb a squirrel he had shot.

Whitcomb, who lives next door, said he was frequently shooting things in his yard.

“Was it a BB gun? A real gun? It could have been,” she said.

She said the youngster frequently walked through neighbors’ yards, at all hours of the day and night.

“I don’t know anyone’s yard he hasn’t been in,” she said.

Another neighbor said the boy, while standing in his yard, would point the BB gun at her grandchildren while they played in her yard.

The youth would mimic shooting at them, said the neighbor, Jenny Lancaster. That happened a half-dozen times over the last few years, she said.

During spring break last year, the boy actually fired the weapon at the three grandkids, she said. Her husband heard the popping sound.

“We yelled at him,” she said. “We knocked on their door five to six times but nobody answered.”

Lancaster said she believed the youngster, who would play alone in the yard for hours, was seeking more attention.

“I feel sorry for him,” she said. “If you don’t get good attention, you try for bad attention.”

At Congress Elementary School in Sturgis, a parent told the principal the boy threatened to stab her 8-year-old daughter last year, according to a TV news report. The school didn’t do anything, said the parent.

Arthur Ebert, superintendent of Sturgis Public Schools, declined to discuss the matter.

“As a district, it is our goal to provide support to our students, staff, and the community,” he said in a prepared statement.

Behavior more pronounced

The boy began acting out more than usual several weeks ago.

He became easily frustrated and agitated, said his sisters. He slammed doors, locked himself in his bedroom and lashed out physically at his family.

Harley Martin blamed the behavior on a switch in her brother’s medication.

On April 22, Randol contacted the Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services of St. Joseph County in Centreville.

A week later, she wrote on Facebook she had trouble getting her son into the agency. Her husband’s insurance didn’t cover the appointment, said family members.

“Does CMH ever return calls?” she wrote. “I needed to get my child in and it’s a freaking run around.”

The social media post received a response from Kristine Kirsch, the agency’s chief executive, who asked Randol to call her.

An intake appointment was made for Tuesday, said the agency.  

On May 6, Randol kept her son, a third-grader, home from school. He was misbehaving so much she didn’t think he could last the entire day in class, said relatives.

The family doesn’t know what happened next. They say they don’t know how he got the hunting rifle, which is usually locked up, or why he fired it at their mother.

Randol's body was found in the living room.

Authorities haven’t discussed the case and court records had scant details.

“This is one of the most confusing and heartbreaking things we’ve ever had to deal with,” said Harley Martin.

Randol’s memorial service is scheduled for Monday at Carney Frost Funeral Home in LaGrange, Indiana, according to a Facebook post by her sister. Both Sturgis and LaGrange are located near the Michigan-Indiana border.

At her son’s preliminary examination, St. Joseph County Judge David Tomlinson sent him to a juvenile facility where he will receive a psychiatric evaluation.

During the hearing, which was attended by his father and sisters, the boy looked scared and confused, they said. He looked like he was lost.

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell