BY MELISSA BOUGHTON and ANDREW KNAPP
A 13-year-old Ladson boy who fatally shot a burglar last week is struggling to cope with the ordeal, but he hasn’t yet visited a counselor despite desperately needing one, his father said.
“He’s not doing well, and I’m not doing well,” the father, 57, said. “This is my 13-year-old baby. I see how this thing is (affecting) him every day. ... We are off course.”
The incident shows the emotional challenges people can face after resorting to deadly force in self-defense. It is especially poignant, officials said, because of the age of the person who took a life.
The Post and Courier has not identified the boy or his family members because of his age.
The teenager told deputies that he used his mother’s 9 mm Glock pistol to shoot at a man breaking into his Elderwood Drive house on Tuesday. He was home alone.
Hit by three bullets, 31-year-old Summerville resident Lamar Anthwan Brown later died. Ira Jerome Bennett, 28, a North Charleston man who took Brown to the hospital, is accused of playing a role in the break-in.
For the boy, now is a crucial time when he should be monitored closely, mental health experts said. He must be watched in the coming weeks to gauge how he will react.
“Everybody’s response to traumatic experiences is different,” said Dr. Trey Andrews of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Early signs of distress are normal, Andrews said. Someone with a strong social support system can recover from the experience without help, he explained, but a professional evaluation early in the crime’s aftermath is one of the safest routes to recovery.
“The later someone receives (mental health) services, the more severe the symptoms can be,” Andrews said.
Dr. Mark Weist, director of the Clinical-Community Program in the University of South Carolina’s Department of Psychology, added that the boy is at risk for an acute stress reaction that could, over time, become post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This would clearly be a very traumatic event for any person,” Weist said.
People showing early signs of trouble can be jumpy and hypervigilant, grouchy, disruptive and depressed, Weist and Andrews said. They may have difficulty sleeping, show signs of anxiety, withdraw and avoid social contact.
On top of counseling, Weist said, it’s important for law enforcement and the boy’s family to tell him that he didn’t do anything wrong by defending himself. Any ambiguity about possible charges for the boy or his family members could put him under more stress and should be cleared up quickly, he said.
Initially, the boy seemed to handle his predicament calmly, his father said. Little stress was apparent in the 911 call he made within minutes of the shooting.
But his father worried that his demeanor would change as the gravity of the shooting sinks in. When his father asks him about the incident, the teen says little.
“He’s just one of those kids who doesn’t have a lot to say,” the father said. “He’s in his own zone, and I don’t want this to go on. I’m really worried about him.”
The family has worked with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office through the initial stages of the investigation.
Maj. Eric Watson, a sheriff’s spokesman, said it’s protocol for the agency to summon Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy for victims in need. Counseling is typically geared toward victims of a shooting, but in the case of the burglary, the boy and his family are considered victims, Watson said.
Rich Robinson, the deputy senior chaplain, responded to the shooting. He and other chaplains typically give victims a list of resources soon after a crime, then follow up a few days later to see if they still need help. He had planned late last week to get back in touch with the boy’s family.
The Sheriff’s Office also may develop a safety plan for those affected by a crime. It could include relocating victims if there’s a threat or recommending changes in habits to help limit their future exposure to crime.
“It’s a very unique situation, especially with the age of the victim. He’s 13 years old, and he acted in self-defense,” Watson said. “Taking someone else’s life is the last thing that anyone, including law enforcement, wants to do. But he defended himself, and he has every right to do that.”
The county’s advocate coordinator, Easter LaRoche, accompanied the family to a bond hearing for the surviving suspect. LaRoche also provided counseling options, including the MUSC crime victims center and the Dee Norton Lowcountry Children’s Center. It’s up to the family to accept the referrals, but the advocate will remain available to them around the clock, Watson said.
“We’re still in contact with them,” he said. “We’ll be tracking the case through trial.”
David Quick contributed to this report. Reach Melissa Boughton at 843-937-5594. Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414.