Kerri Smith/St. Johns
November 24, 2008 12:00 PM

Even days after the crime, authorities in St. Johns, Ariz., were having a hard time explaining why a third-grader allegedly shot his father, Vincent Romero, and another man to death in a premeditated attack with a .22 caliber rifle on Nov. 5. The 8-year-old had apparently never so much as swiped another kid’s lunch money. “He had no record of any kind,” said Apache County Attorney Brad Carlyon, “not even a disciplinary record at school.” About the only explanation that one family friend could come up with was that shortly before Halloween, Romero had angered his son by spanking him and then grounding him from trick-or-treating because he had gotten a poor report card.

St. Johns Police Chief Roy Melnick said there was no immediate evidence that the boy had been abused, either by his father or the other victim, Timothy Romans, 39, who rented a room in the Romero home. But he vowed to investigate that angle. “He just doesn’t decide one day … to shoot his father and his father’s friend for no reason,” said Melnick. “Something led up to this.” Romero, who was divorced from the boy’s mother and had full custody of his son, had recently begun teaching the boy how to hunt with the rifle.

Authorities announced they would move to have the boy tried as an adult. Romero, who worked in construction, was a well-liked figure in St. Johns, located 170 miles northeast of Phoenix. Meanwhile, the youngster, who police say confessed to the murders, awaits his fate in jail. “He’s trying to be as tough as he can,” says Ron Wood, a lawyer who has seen him. “But how tough can you be when you’re 8?”

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