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He was 8 when he killed 2 men. Now, his probation is ending

December 26, 2017 GMT

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The call came in to police dispatch just after 5 p.m. on a cold November evening in the small Arizona town of St. Johns: There was a body on the front porch of a house.

Detective Debbie Neckel fastened her bulletproof vest and headed out. As she and Sgt. Lucas Rodriguez approached the blue two-story home, Neckel fixed her eyes on two people, a teenager and an 8-year-old boy standing nearby.

Rodriguez walked toward the house, and Neckel toward the boy, whom she knew from the neighborhood. His arms were outstretched, and he was near tears.

″‘My dad, my dad. My dad’s dead,’” Neckel recalled him saying. ”‘I think my dad’s dead.’”

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The boy’s father, Vincent Romero, 29, was found face-down on the staircase inside. The body on the porch was Romero’s co-worker, Timothy Romans, 39, who rented a room there.

A swirl of suspects would emerge before a truth was revealed that no one saw coming: The 8-year-old killed both men.

The child came home Nov. 5, 2008, and killed his father with a single-shot .22-caliber rifle, holding the bullets in his small hand to reload after each shot. He called to Romans that something was wrong, then shot him, too.

Nine years later, the boy is days from his 18th birthday with a chance to move on from a crime that has defined his life. He will sign paperwork Friday freeing him from intensive probation, psychological evaluations and travel restrictions.

The Associated Press isn’t identifying the teen because of his age at the time of the shootings.

The transition will be easier because of the support network he built since pleading guilty to negligent homicide in Romans’ death, said Wood and Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting, who prosecuted the case.

The charge for killing his father was dropped. Whiting said at the time that it was in the boy’s best interest not to be forced to acknowledge killing his father.

The boy first was held at a youth treatment center near Phoenix, then moved to a group home and then a foster home. Besides a trio of probation violations when he was 12, he’s avoided trouble.

Whiting said he could not discuss specifics but noted that several people have gone out of their way to ensure the boy gets help. At one point, a psychiatrist who treated him offered to take him in.

Romero’s mother, Liz Castillo, has been the boy’s biggest supporter, regularly attending hearings and visiting him.

The boy initially told authorities he found the men dead when he got home from school.

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His role might have gone undiscovered much longer if Romans had not been on the phone with his wife while he waited for Romero to grab a car part, Neckel said. Romero went in, saw his son with a gun and scolded him for getting it from underneath his bed. The boy ran upstairs, turning and shooting his father as he followed.

Romans cut short his conversation with his wife, Tanya, when the boy called for him.

“Tim, I need you to come in here,” he said, according to court transcripts. “Something’s wrong with Dad.”

Tanya Romans urged police to talk to the boy. Still, no one thought he was a suspect.

Neckel and sheriff’s Cmdr. Matrese Avila interviewed the child, who confessed in a videotaped interview.

No motive was revealed, but the boy mentioned he was spanked for not bringing home some school papers.

Neckel said the papers were a behavioral report from his teacher. Romero and his wife, Tiffany, told the boy he would be spanked once for each day he forgot them, Neckel said. That day he would have received four swats.