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Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Hunter High teen charged with 2 counts of murder

SHARE Hunter High teen charged with 2 counts of murder
SHARE Hunter High teen charged with 2 counts of murder

Criminal charges were filed Wednesday against a 14-year-old boy accused of gunning down two of his Hunter High School classmates who he said had been harassing him.

The teen is charged in 3rd District Juvenile Court with two counts of murder and discharge of a firearm causing serious injury, first-degree felonies; illegal discharge of a firearm and obstruction of justice, second-degree felonies; possession of a dangerous weapon on school property, a class A misdemeanor; and possession of a handgun by a minor, a class B misdemeanor.

Deseret News has opted not to name the the boy at this time.

During a brief court hearing on Wednesday in which the teen was informed of the charges, Juvenile Court Judge Mark May denied a request from the boy and his attorney to allow him to return home pending trial given the serious nature of the charges and ordered him to remain in juvenile detention. An arraignment, which was supposed to happen Wednesday, was then continued until March 3.

On Jan. 13, two groups of Hunter High students got into a confrontation near 4100 South and the Mountain View Corridor. Paul Tahi, 15, and Tivani Lopati, 14, were both shot and killed. Ephraim Asiata, 15, was critically injured. On Sunday, a spokesman for Ephraim's family said Ephraim had been moved out of the intensive care unit but would likely remain in the hospital for several more weeks.

After his arrest, the teen told police that he and his friends had been "harassed" by the other group. Another student, whose name was redacted from charging documents, concurred that they had been "involved in a dispute for more than a year" with the other group, including the two boys who were killed, according to charging documents. All three victims were Hunter High football players.

On Jan. 12, a boy claimed that members of the other group, which allegedly included the football players, told him he would be "beaten up" if he came to school the next day, the charges state. In response, the boy told police he took a 9mm gun to school on Jan. 13. That gun was later recovered by police in a ditch. The weapon was loaded, but no round was in the chamber and charging documents do not indicate whether it had been fired.

Police say the two groups got into a fight about 11 a.m. on Jan. 13 a short distance away from the school. A passerby yelled at the teens and was able to break-up the fight. As the 14-year-old who is now charged with murder and his friends began to walk away, members of the other group "caught up to them and jumped them," according to the charges.

After the second fight started, the boy said "he began shooting into the crowd before running away," the charges state. The boy said he then threw the weapon — a .40-caliber handgun — over a fence and ran, according to police. The court documents do not say how the teenager came to be in possession of that handgun.

West Valley police said they were able to trace that gun back to its original legal sale in 2013. But how it ended up in West Valley City and into the 14-year-old's hands is under investigation.

Four shots were fired. Ephraim was shot in the abdomen. The charges do not indicate where the other two victims who died were shot.

At his last detention hearing, the 14-year-old started to explain to the judge that he is a “good kid” before he was cut off and advised not to make statements until he had the chance to speak with his attorney. On Wednesday, the boy sat quietly and listened while wearing a face mask.

Prosecutors had mentioned during the last court hearing that they intended to seek to have the boy certified to stand trial as an adult. The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office cannot directly file charges against a 14-year-old to face charges in adult court. However, they can request a certification hearing after charges are filed in juvenile court to have the case moved.