Deputies in Volusia County, Florida, shot a 14-year-old girl on Tuesday night after she and a 12-year-old boy fled a group home, broke into a house, found multiple guns inside and then opened fire on deputies, according to Sheriff Mike Chitwood.
The girl was shot in the abdomen and the arm and is in stable condition, while the boy surrendered and was not injured, the sheriff’s office said.
“I don’t know what to say. Where have we gone wrong that a 12-year-old and 14-year-old think it’s OK to take on law enforcement?” Chitwood said.
The sheriff’s office on Wednesday released over nine minutes of edited video showing footage from body cameras and a helicopter looking down at the scene.
“She’s pointing the gun. She’s pointing the gun behind the trash can,” one officer says in the footage shortly before the deputies open fire.
Charging affidavits for the juveniles indicate they are charged with attempted murder of a law enforcement officer and armed burglary. The boy is 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs 78 pounds, while the girl is 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds, the documents state.
The affidavits include details from an interview with the boy in which he admits to shooting repeatedly at officers using a handgun, a shotgun and an AK-47 that they had taken from the home. He told investigators that they saw deputies outside the home, at which point the girl said, “I’m gonna roll this down like GTA,” referring to the video game “Grand Theft Auto,” according to the affidavits.
The boy “told detectives he knew they were cops when he shot them because he wanted to harm them. There are the words of a 12-year-old,” Chitwood said at a news briefing.
The startling spree of gunfire came as Chitwood insisted deputies repeatedly tried to deescalate the situation, make personal contact with the juveniles and were forced to hide behind trees amid waves of shooting.
“We try to deescalate, we throw a cell phone into the house to try to talk to them. The 14-year-old comes out of the garage with a pump shotgun, levels it at deputies, and despite warnings to drop it, she walks back into the garage. She comes back a second time, and that’s when deputies open fire,” Chitwood said.
The boy has been in foster care since at least 2017, according to the sheriff. He does not have a prior criminal history, but made two threats in school this year, once threatening to throw a brick at an administrator, and five days later threatening to kill a student and “spread his guts all over the bleachers,” Chitwood said.
The sheriff said on Tuesday that the girl had burned down a home in April, but on Wednesday, he corrected himself, saying the girl had set fires in a wooded lot that came close to burning homes.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the officers’ use of force at the request of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, according to FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger.
The FDLE will examine the facts of what happened, develop a time line and then provide information to the state attorney, who will make a determination about whether the use of force was justified, she said.
Juveniles broke into home and then opened fire
According to authorities, the children ran away from the group home around 5 p.m. Tuesday and evaded police for hours. At about 7:30 p.m., a passerby told deputies he heard glass breaking at a home nearby, and deputies found there had been a forced entry into the home, according to the sheriff’s office.
Deputes contacted the homeowner, who said that nobody should be home and that there was a handgun, pump shotgun and an AK-47 inside, as well as a large amount of ammunition, the sheriff’s office said.
As deputies surrounded the home and tried to establish a rapport with the boy and girl, they were met with gunfire, the sheriff said. The sheriff’s office said the children fired at deputies on four separate occasions over about 35 minutes.
At one point, the 14-year-old girl emerged from the home and threatened to kill Sgt. Donnie Maxwell, Chitwood said.
He said officers took multiple rounds of gunfire before “they were left with no other choice but to return fire.” After the girl was shot, the boy, who had been armed with an AK-47, surrendered to deputies, according to the sheriff’s office.
At least eight deputies were involved in the incident, the sheriff’s office said.
At his press conference Tuesday, Chitwood praised his officers for their restraint in the face of waves of gunfire.
“Deputies did everything they could tonight to de-escalate, and they almost lost their lives to a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old,” he said. “If it wasn’t for their training and their supervision… somebody would have ended up dead.”
The home, a 30-acre farm in Deltona just north of Lake Monroe, belongs to AJ Bedizel, who told CNN he and his two daughters had gone to a Publix grocery store Tuesday evening before the break-in. When he returned, he saw police had surrounded the place and heard them scream into a megaphone for those inside to come out with their hands up.
He said he did not know the two children who wreaked havoc on his home. They broke windows, shot up into the ceiling and destroyed his side of the house, he said. Bedizel said he was thankful that nobody was home at the time, but he hasn’t been allowed to return home and has nowhere else to go.
“We’ve been violated, and I don’t know what the next step is, the healthy step for me, for my girls to get past this,” he told CNN. “I don’t know if my girls will feel safe. I don’t know what to do. I really don’t. I’m at a loss.”
Children’s home to put moratorium on emergency shelter program
Chitwood denounced the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in particularly harsh terms, calling the department a “failure” and a “fraud.”
The sheriff also criticized the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home, where the boy and girl had been staying. The sheriff’s office said it handled close to 300 calls at the FUMCH in 2020.
After the girl was charged with setting the fires, “DJJ, who’s the gatekeeper, decides that arson isn’t a violent crime,” Chitwood said at Wednesday’s news conference. “So they’re going to return her back to her mother. Well, her mother obviously can’t control her, so they placed her into foster care,” the sheriff said, adding that the teen ran away from foster care several times before being sent to FUMCH on May 30. “And then we all know what happened on June 1,” Chitwood said.
“This situation is tragic and is the result of the system failing our children,” Kitwana McTyer, the President and CEO of FUMCH, said in a press release. “These children are in desperate need of care in the appropriate setting, which is a higher level of care than we provide.”
McTyer said the two juveniles had been in the Emergency Shelter Care program, which currently serves three children.
“As a result of this event, we will be placing a moratorium on our campus Emergency Shelter Care program for the next 30 days and then will cease to provide that service until such time if/when that we feel that we can do so in a safe manner for the children coming into care and simultaneously protect our staff who do a valiant job at caring for our children every day,” McTyer said.
“At this juncture, the level of children who are being sent to us through Emergency Shelter care at times is beyond the scope of our capabilities to provide the care required and limits who we can serve as part of our mission.”
McTyer said the group home has seen a higher level of children who repeatedly come through the system with “escalated behaviors” in recent years. Still, she noted that the home is required by law to contact law enforcement if a child leaves the property, so many of the 300 calls to the sheriff’s office in 2020 were not emergencies.
The FUMCH was founded in 1908 as an orphanage and continues to provide care for children, and McTyer emphasized in the statement that the Emergency Shelter Care program is only one part of its services. “We are a child welfare facility, not a secure care facility,” McTyer said.
The Department of Juvenile Justice told CNN in a statement that the FUMCH “is not a DJJ program.”
“The events that unfolded last night in Volusia County are tragic, and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is thankful that there were no casualties as a result of this incident,” the DJJ said.
“As an agency, we serve alongside the various partners that make up Florida’s juvenile justice system, including law enforcement, the courts, state attorneys, and community providers to hold youth accountable for their actions,” the statement said. “DJJ does not tolerate violence that jeopardizes the public safety of our communities.”
CNN’s Rebekah Riess and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.