Police have arrested a 14-year-old boy on a manslaughter charge in connection to the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy at a Tampa home last month.
The teen, who was arrested Monday, admitted to shooting the boy while they were hanging out at a house on the 2600 block of East 111th Avenue on Jan. 8, according to a Tampa Police Department news release issued Friday. The boy told police that he did not mean to shoot the boy and thought the gun was unloaded.
The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office has decided to prosecute the teen as an adult after reviewing the facts and the circumstances of the case, said Gary Weisman, chief of staff for State Attorney Susan Lopez. The Tampa Bay Times is not naming the teen because of his age.
Police have not released the name of the boy who was killed, but his family identified him as James Lett Jr., a seventh grader at Greco Middle School.
Police received a call that afternoon from someone reporting that a boy had been shot in the home. Officers found Lett in a bedroom, dead from a gunshot wound. A second boy, 15, had a gunshot wound to his mouth.
Investigators determined Lett and the other teen were both struck by the same bullet, according to police. Witnesses at the home told police that one of the juveniles at the home brought a gun to the house.
“Multiple juveniles had been arming themselves with the firearm, displaying it in a reckless manner, and at times pointing the firearm at one another for fun,” Friday’s news release states.
The 14-year-old boy “armed himself with the firearm and approached the other juveniles in the home” and “pointed the firearm at the victims and fired the gun.”
The single round struck Lett in the back of his head, traveled through him and then struck the 15-year-old boy, police said.
“This is a tragic reminder of the fact that it is essential for gun owners to practice safe storage of firearms,” interim police Chief Lee Bercaw said in a statement. “Had these juveniles not had easy access to guns in the home, a young man would still be alive today. It is critical for parents, guardians, and gun owners to ensure that firearms are stored in a place that is inaccessible to children, out of sight, and locked at all times.”
Lett’s mother Latrina Jackson said Friday that she was glad to learn of the boy’s arrest, but the news about her son’s friend facing charges also brought mixed emotions.
“I’m thankful to the police for doing a thorough investigation and bringing justice for my son,” Jackson said. “I’m also sad because not only did I lose my son, now another mother is losing her child to the system.”
She said she was grateful for the many people who came to pay their respects to James during a memorial service last month at Exciting Faith Alive Church in Tampa. Among them were several Greco Middle School teachers and students. James was then buried at Rest Haven Cemetery.
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Jackson said she’s hopeful some good will come from her son’s death. That could happen, she said, “if we can save one child that has decided after that funeral, you know what, let me put this gun down, let me go back to school, let me change my life.”
“I just hope it wasn’t in vain,” she said.
Friday’s news release from Tampa police noted that the department offers free gun locks at its four district offices through its Project Locked and Unloaded. For more information, go to tampa.gov/police.