14-year-old wanted to teach nephew gun safety

UPDATED 2:30 p.m.

URBANA — An Urbana High School freshman who reportedly wanted to teach his toddler nephew a lesson on gun safety has been criminally charged with causing his death.

Champaign County Judge Heidi Ladd ruled Thursday that it was a matter of immediate and urgent necessity that the boy be held in the Juvenile Detention Center until a hearing next week.

He was charged as a juvenile with involuntary manslaughter and unlawful possession of a weapon in connection with the fatal shooting of Mekhi Woods, 3, at the home the boys shared in the 900 block of East Pennsylvania Avenue in Urbana.

The News-Gazette has a practice of not publishing the names of juveniles unless they are charged with serious felonies as adults.

State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said the youth had taken the magazine out of the .25-caliber handgun that he had stolen in February from a Rantoul drug dealer’s home but apparently didn’t realize it was still loaded.

Rietz said the teen told Urbana police that Mekhi had been playing with the gun, which the teen kept in his room.

“He pointed it at the child and pulled the trigger, wanting to scare him and teach him about gun safety, not knowing there was a round in the chamber,” she said.

Rietz said after the round hit the toddler in the forehead, the teen scooped the child up and ran outdoors with him, handing his limp body to a young female friend he knew from school.

Assistant State’s Attorney Chris Kanis told Ladd in court that the child was still breathing, although the breathing was labored and the child had an obvious open wound to the forehead.

When the first officer arrived, the girl handed the wounded boy to him. At the same time, the teen was outside still holding the gun and yelling hysterically that he had shot his nephew and was going to shoot himself, Kanis said.

The teen sobbed intermittently during the brief detention hearing, which was also attended by his mother, stepfather, older sister, and one set of his grandparents.

Kanis asked that the teen be held for his own safety because of his suicidal comments. Assistant Public Defender Jim Kuehl noted that the teen had no prior criminal contacts and asked that he be released to his family so that he could take part in any funeral for Mekhi.

Ladd said she was “mindful of the wrenching circumstances” that the family is in but ordered that he be held as long as he is a danger to himself. She said she would consider releasing him for the funeral later, once arrangements have been made and mental health services are in place for him.

A memorial vigil for Mekhi has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday in the parking lot at Stone Creek Church, 2502 S. Race St., U, according to family friend Shannonn McGaughey of Champaign. 

McGaughey also said a bank account had been set up at First Mid-Illinois Bank to help the family with funeral expenses. The bank has branches at 2229 S. Neil St., C, and 601 S. Vine St., U.

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