Thirteen-year-old Darius Simmons decided to stay home from school last Thursday because he was feeling ill. Little did he know that his 75-year-old neighbor, John Henry Spooner, was seething about a home break-in and suspected the young boy of committing the crime. According to police, Spooner took the law into his own hands and shot Simmons in cold blood in front of his mother outside their Wisconsin home.
Spooner, a gun advocate and reported member of the National Rifle Association, was arrested and charged with first-degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon. He appeared in court Saturday where a judge set a cash bail at $300,000, The Associated Press reports.
Betty McCuiston, Simmons' aunt, told reporters during a press conference the same day that Spooner had approached the teen while he was outside retrieving a trash can from the curb. Spooner accused Simmons of breaking into his home earlier in the week and stealing some of his guns, reportedly worth about $3,000.
According to the police complaint, Patricia Larry, the teen's mother, said Spooner told the boy he "wanted his stuff back and that he wanted his shotguns back."
The boy reportedly denied committing the theft, but was allegedly shot in the chest by Spooner, who was about five feet away, as he held his hands in the air. Simmons' mother also claimed that after being shot, her son ran and was shot a second time.
The 75-year-old widower reportedly confessed to police when they showed up to the scene. Officers searched the Simmons' home -- apparently for Spooner's missing guns -- and found nothing. Darius' family claims the boy was in school at the time of the burglary.
It was reported that Spooner had complained over breakfast at a local restaurant an hour earlier to Alderman Bob Donovan about the break-in, and revealed that he had suspected the family living next door was to blame.
"It's very disturbing," Donovan said days after the crime. "John lived in the neighborhood a long time. I never knew him to so much as loiter or spit on the street."
Donovan noted that during his talk with Spooner, "He seemed burdened, truly burdened." The alderman also indicated that the man, reportedly diagnosed with cancer, had said that "there are other ways to deal with situations" the police couldn't resolve, according to the AP.
The Simmons family, who had moved into the neighborhood on Milwaukee's south side less than a month ago, held a prayer service and news conference outside their home June 2.
A minister who said his own three sons had been murdered, called for the violence to stop.
"We are taking lives away too lightly. God's people are suffering. The suffering has to stop," said Leondis Fuller of New Covenant Holistic Ministries.
McCuiston, Darius' aunt, told reporters that the family was upset that police had not done more when Spooner originally complained about the break-in and wondered why the alderman, Donovan, had not also taken action. Spooner had reportedly been a victim of several break-ins.
"He was gunned down for something he did not do," she said of her 13-year-old nephew.
"I don't think God designed for a mother to bury her 13-year-old son," she added.
Although no one involved in the case has claimed that race may have been at play -- Spooner is white and Simmons is black -- some observers have compared the teen's death to that of Trayon Martin, the 17-year-old unarmed black teen killed in a confrontation with neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman in Florida. Others, however, have suggested that the problem may lie with the authorities or the community as a whole.
Juan Carlos Ruiz, identified as a local activist, told the AP that Spooner was a churchgoer and was very respected in the neighborhood.
"What drove this man to take the law into his own hands?" he asked. "How much (have) we as a community failed, to let this happen?"