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Sheriff: Pastor's son accidentally gunned down teen cousin in church

Teens thought someone was breaking into the church, sheriff said

WILMINGTON – The son of the pastor of a Wilmington church accidentally shot his teenage cousin while the two went looking for someone they believed was breaking into the church late Tuesday night, Will County Sheriff Mike Kelley said.

“I would suspect that the best thing that could have probably happened is the 17-year-old at some point maybe wake up his father and let his father address the situation, but he decided to take matters into his own hands,” Kelley said of the fatal shooting during a Wednesday morning news conference at the Will County Public Safety Complex, 16911 W. Laraway Road, Joliet.

“It’s hard to tell somebody what they should be thinking when they think somebody’s breaking into their residence,” Kelley said.

The two cousins, the slain 15-year-old and the 17-year-old son of the pastor of Christian Faith Center, 1800 S. Water St., unincorporated Wilmington, were having a sleepover when they thought they heard someone breaking in about 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, Kelley said.

The 15-year-old was a resident of Godley, Kelley said.

The 17-year-old grabbed a rifle from a closet, and the teens went to investigate, police said. On their way to the gymnasium, the 17-year-old tripped over the cord to an industrial fan, Kelley said, and the rifle discharged. The 15-year-old, who was leading the way, was struck.

When deputies arrived, they found the teen unresponsive with a bullet wound to his upper body, Kelley said. Deputies and family members performed CPR before the teen was taken to Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee, where he was pronounced dead at 12:28 a.m. Wednesday.

The 17-year-old was questioned by detectives and was cooperative, Kelley said. He was not charged with a crime.

“It was determined that this was a tragic accident,” the sheriff said.

The pastor owned the rifle and other firearms on the property, Kelley said, and the 17-year-old had a valid firearm owner’s identification card. The family recently had moved into the residence attached to the church, and the boys were not yet accustomed to it, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Kathy Hoffmeyer said.

Hoffmeyer said the cousins were “very close friends.”

Deputies returned to the center Wednesday morning to ensure that no one had been trying to force entry the previous evening. It did not appear that anyone had, Kelley said.

“We don’t know exactly what they heard, but it doesn’t appear anyone was trying to break into the residence,” Kelley said.

Kankakee County Coroner Robert Gessner scheduled the boy’s autopsy for Wednesday afternoon.

Gessner said the autopsy revealed that the teen suffered a single gunshot wound to the chest. He also said the youth would not be identified until his entire family was notified of his death.

“The family’s not fully been identified, so we’re holding back on that,” the coroner said.

The 17-year-old was not identified because he is a juvenile.

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