A Wisconsin eighth-grader fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy on a Native American reservation came home from school with the flu the morning of the shooting, but it’s unclear why he left the home, his grandparents said Friday.
An Ashland County sheriff’s deputy shot 14-year-old Jason Pero just before noon on Wednesday outside his home on the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation, a sprawling wooded area about 300 miles north of Madison. Investigators said deputies were responding to a call about a male subject walking down the street with a knife around 11:40 a.m.
Authorities have released no information about what led to the shooting.
Relatives have questioned whether the boy had a knife. The Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is investigating the incident, has said a knife was recovered from the scene. A department spokeswoman declined to comment Friday except to say the deputy has been placed on administrative leave.
The teen’s grandfather, Alan Pero, told The Associated Press on Friday that the boy lived with him and his wife and they had raised him since he was a year old. He said his grandson dreamed of joining the military.
“He got murdered out in front of the house here,” Pero said in a phone interview. “He’s a boy. There’s warning shots. There’s Tasers. There’s pepper spray. You don’t go right on a 14-year-old kid and go for the kill zone.”
“I’m really having a hard time keeping my anger in,” his wife added. “You don’t come up to a 14-year-old boy and pull a gun on him and just fire. … That’s baloney. We’re asking questions. We’re not getting answers.”
Pero said his grandson had been sick for a few days. The boy went to school Wednesday morning but came back to the house feeling nauseous, he said. The grandparents weren’t home, but Jason’s uncle was at the house and told the grandparents that Jason got a 7-Up, laid on the couch and started watching TV.
The uncle was downstairs doing laundry when the boy apparently left. Pero said the uncle doesn’t know why or how the boy left the house.
Investigators searched the home and the family discovered a dull butcher knife was missing, Pero said. The boy’s mother and other relatives have said they’re not convinced Jason had a knife.
His grandfather said that even if he did, “maybe he was carving, maybe he was doing something, but he’d never hurt a fly. Never in his life.”
Cheryl Pero said she was working at a day care when she saw squad cars “flying by like crazy, and I just got a really sick feeling in my stomach knowing they were (heading in the direction of her house).”
She came home and saw her house ringed off with yellow police tape. In the yard was her grandson’s body.
“At first, I didn’t really know that was him lying there,” she said. “When I was finally able to get a glance and recognize the clothing, that’s when I lost it. They cut off his shirt. It was lying there and they were doing (chest) compressions.”
Both grandparents described their grandson as a gentle boy who played the drums for his tribe and wanted to become a Marine.
“He was a big old teddy bear,” Alan Pero said. “He teased his little nephews once in a while, but that was the meanest part he had.”
The Bad River reservation covers 124,655 acres along Lake Superior. The area is largely untouched wilderness, marked by thick forests and swamps. Tribal members consider the environment sacred, particularly Gichi Gami, the Chippewa name for Lake Superior.
The tribe led the fight against Republican legislation that dramatically relaxed Wisconsin’s iron mining regulations for an open-pit mine near the reservation. The mine never materialized. In January, the tribe called for removing 12 miles of an Enbridge oil pipeline from their reservation.
The Sheriff’s Office provides law enforcement services on the reservation along with tribal police.