The homeowner heard his burglar alarm sound, grabbed his gun and went to investigate. When the two met on the stairs inside the house, the man said he told the teen to leave and fired a warning shot, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation.
Caleb didn’t stop, and the home-owner fired again, striking and killing the teen, the official said.
A day later, Caleb’s friends and family were trying to figure out how this promising, well-liked athlete, who stayed out of trouble and generally listened to his parents, could have died in such a way.
“They have the exact same staircase as us, the exact same carpet. Caleb clearly thought he was in his own house,” said his father, Shawn Gordley, who provided the account of his son’s night. “He probably stumbled around and was just trying to go to his room.”
The home where the shooting occurred belongs to Donald West Wilder II, according to neighbors and real estate records. People on the block said that Wilder is a good neighbor who has lived in the home for about nine years and has been a Sterling volunteer firefighter for nearly two decades. Wilder did not respond to several attempts to reach him Sunday and Monday.
Police said the investigation continues. They said there is no indication that there was any animosity between the families or even that they knew each other. No charges have been filed.
Virginia law is largely silent on when a homeowner can shoot an intruder. But years of legal precedent give wide latitude to people who fear for their safety when someone breaks into their homes.
At Park View High School in Sterling, where Caleb was a junior and played basketball, football and baseball, students on Monday wrote memorial messages on a strip of butcher paper stretched across the gym floor. Many wore black and orange, the colors of the Cincinnati Bengals, Caleb’s favorite football team. The school observed a moment of silence, and grief counselors were on hand.
Members of the basketball team wrote letters to Caleb and watched team videos that showed the teenager high-fiving everyone around him. Caleb had gotten pulled up to the varsity team this year and often stayed after practice for extra help, his coach, Mike Koscinski, said.
“He was the hype man. He got everyone hyped up before games,” Koscinski said.
On Caleb’s Twitter account, he complained in recent weeks that there weren’t often parties in Sterling; he said there should be one every weekend. Then, on Saturday night, he expressed excitement that a friend was hosting a party.