The town of Fouke, Ark., has not seen a homicide in at least a quarter of a century.
Police believe the boy targeted Christa Shockley and shot her with a pistol. Her death is the first violent crime that Purvis has seen in more than 25 years.
“When you’re looking at a murder committed by a 12-year-old child, it’s unimaginable, it’s unexplainable, it’s horrific,” Purvis, who has lived in Fouke for nearly 30 years, told The Washington Post. “Even if we knew exactly what happened, even if we knew the motive, even if we knew everything that went down, I don’t know how anybody could ever understand what happened because of the age of the suspect.”
Because the suspect is a juvenile, authorities have provided little information in Shockley’s death. The boy’s name also will not be released.
Officers with the Miller County Sheriff’s Office were called to an E-Z Mart store just after 2 a.m. on Thursday, after a local newspaper carrier walked in and found Shockley lying on the floor. Investigators identified the 12-year-old as a suspect later that morning. They had found the gun and clothes that belong to the boy, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office.
The boy, who is being held in the Miller County Juvenile Detention Center, has been charged with capital murder and aggravated robbery.
Miller County Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black said it’s extremely rare for someone so young to be charged with capital murder. But in this case, she said, the facts warranted that charge. Had the suspect been an adult, he would have been facing a possible death sentence.
Shockley’s death is the first murder case Black has seen come out of Fouke since she became a prosecutor 10 years ago. Many of the crimes reported in the town are nonviolent, like theft.
“Everyone that has come in contact with this case has just been in shock,” said Black, who was elected county prosecutor in 2015. “It’s not normal for there to be a violent crime in Fouke, Ark., and at the hands of a 12-year-old, it’s even more shocking.”
Dozens gathered Saturday evening for a prayer vigil outside the convenience store. Purvis said he has also received several calls from members of the community.
“There’s so many gamut of emotions that goes through everybody,” Purvis said. “It’s just gut-wrenching to think a child would do something like this.”
It’s unclear whether Shockley and the boy knew each other. A relative of Shockley’s said the family has no comment.
According to the Texarkana Gazette, Shockley, a college student, was working a graveyard shift when she was killed. It was one of two part-time jobs; she also worked as a part-time security guard at the Texarkana Regional Airport, the paper reported.
“Her unique spirit and love for others has been echoed by her many colleagues and customers,” Sonja Hubbard, chief executive of E-Z Mart Stores, told the Texarkana Gazette. “She was a special person that will be missed yet remain in our hearts.”
The 12-year-old is not the first juvenile to be charged with capital murder, although he appears to be one of the youngest.
Last month, a 17-year-old was charged in connection with the death of a 21-year-old from Berryville, Ark., about 300 miles away from Fouke, KY3 reported. In the neighboring state of Texas, a 15-year-old boy was charged with capital murder in the 2015 death of a 19-year-old, ABC affiliate KSAT reported.
In one high-profile case, a 10-year-old California boy shot and killed his abusive father, a budding leader of a neo-Nazi group, while he was sleeping. Under police interrogation, Joseph Hall confessed to killing his father. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 2013 and was sentenced to serve in a California juvenile facility.
Child advocates had argued that someone as young as Joseph would not have realized the wrongfulness of his actions. Last year, the boy lost a bid to overturn his murder conviction after the Supreme Court declined to hear his case.
In the Fouke murder case, the 12-year-old will not be charged as an adult.
Prosecutors have asked a judge to let him stay in the juvenile detention center if he’s convicted. If the request is approved, Black said a hearing will be held after the boy turns 21, and a judge will then decide if he should be released or transferred to an adult prison.
Arkansas and a majority of the states do not allow juveniles under the age of 14 to be charged with felonies, including capital crimes. The District of Columbia does not allow juveniles under the age of 15 to be charged as adults. In North Carolina, juveniles as young as 13 can be charged with capital crimes.