It was just after dawn when the sound of gunfire summoned cruisers to a home in John D’Or Prairie, a First Nations settlement of 1,000 in northern Alberta.
Inside the house, officers with the RCMP and North Peace Tribal Police found a 48-year-old man, shot through the abdomen and lying dead in a puddle of blood.
Outside, they found a recently fired Winchester and a 13-year-old boy.
The dead man was his father, the boy would tell officers, and he had killed him in self-defence.
Last week, an Alberta judge agreed, setting the teenager free after more than two years in custody.
“He is not a murderer,” lawyer Doug Majaesic told the CBC’s Janice Johnston after his client was found not guilty of second-degree murder.
Even after the years of abuse, death threats and domestic violence, the boy had taken no pleasure in killing his father, said the lawyer. He was “devastated in fact,” said Majaesic.
The boy and his family cannot be named under the terms of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. But according to an exhaustive account gathered at the trial by CBC, the accused had resorted after years of abuse meted out to him, his siblings and his mother.
‘You got three seconds to leave or I’m gonna kill you. You and your mom’
The father had hit his children almost every day, threatened to kill them more times than they could count, put a son into the hospital by forcing him to take unprescribed pills and pushed his daughter into a bathtub, causing a miscarriage.
One time, he had tried to run over the children with his truck.
The boy’s mother may have taken the worst of the abuse. She appeared on the stand in High Level, Alta., without upper teeth and with scars and lumps covering her head.
The abuse came to a head in the early hours of Aug. 5, 2013. After the accused’s father began attacking his mother, the boy grabbed a rifle and burst into his parent’s bedroom to intervene.
“And then he (the father) said: ‘You got three seconds to leave or I’m gonna kill you. You and your mom’ … Then he looked at me. And then I pulled the trigger,” the accused told the court, according to CBC.
The weapon was a Winchester 30-30, the same type of lever-action rifle that would be used in the October 2014 parliament shooting.
While it is extremely rare for a child to kill a parent in an apparent act of self-defence, it does seem to occur with semi-regularity in the prairies.
Only a few months before the John D’Or Prairie shooting, a 14-year-old boy in rural Manitoba fatally stabbed his father under similar circumstances.
After drinking all day, the father struck his wife with a cellphone and squeezed lemon juice into her eyes. The son intervened, and in the ensuing scuffle fatally severed his father’s pulmonary artery.
“His worry was that if he didn’t overcome his father, they’d both be beaten to death,” the 14-year-old’s defence lawyer had said at trial.
Two years before that, 27-year-old Matthew Crichton shot his abusive 73-year-old father at the family’s rural residence in Grovedale, Alta.
He pleaded guilty to manslaughter, arguing that he intended to fire only a warning shot, and was given a few months in jail.
“It’s been for the best,” Crichton told Postmedia in 2013. “My mom might eventually have been killed by my father … and everyone can just be who they want to be.”
National Post, with files from Jana Pruden