Family members of a 14-year-old boy fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy on a northern Wisconsin reservation questioned on Thursday why the teen, who they describe as loving and kind, was gunned down. Holly Gauthier said authorities have provided few details about the death of her son, 14-year-old Jason Pero, an 8th grader who died on the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s reservation Wednesday.
Dispatchers received a call about a male subject walking down the street armed with a knife about 11:40 a.m. Wednesday, said the Ashland County Sheriff’s Office, which provides law enforcement services on the reservation along with the tribal police department. A responding deputy fired shots, striking the male. He was treated at the scene but died at a hospital. Neither the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is investigating the shooting, or the sheriff’s office have identified Pero. Gauthier tells Duluth station WDIO-TV she believes her son was murdered.
“(There is) no reason you can justify shooting a 14-year-old boy,” Gauthier said. Her son was home sick from school Wednesday and staying at his grandparents’ house, she added. Gauthier said she doesn’t know why Jason was outside. The state Justice Department said a knife was recovered at the scene of the shooting. Family members questioned whether Pero had a knife. Pero’s grandfather, Alan Pero, described Jason as someone who “never had one mean bone in his body.” Gauthier said her son was “a big teddy bear” and “everybody loved him.”
Bad River Band Chairman Robert Blanchard said he has not heard directly from sheriff’s officials about why Pero was shot and he questioned why the deputy had to take the teen’s life. “This is a tragedy that should not have happened. There’s other ways to do things than to pull out a gun and shoot him,” Blanchard said. Sheriff’s officials said the deputy was not injured and referred further questions on the shooting to the Department of Justice. The agency said its Division of Criminal Investigation continues to collect evidence and will turn over its reports to the Ashland County District Attorney’s Office, hopefully within 30 days. Blanchard said Pero came from a good family and attended Ashland Middle School.
“It’s hard to talk about it without getting emotional,” the chairman said. The superintendent of the School District of Ashland, Keith Hilts, said some students are struggling with their classmate’s death, but mental health professionals from the community are on hand to help them. Hilts said Jason was involved in the school band and was a member of the drumming group which will honor him at a Veterans Day assembly Friday.