The Phoenix mother sounded frantic as she explained how her 9-year-old son, Landen Lavarnia, was shot March 20, 2017, inside their home. But police say the 911 call was a farce.
1 of 7
Phoenix Police Department spokesman Sgt. Vince Lewis gives a synopsis of the facts of the investigation into the shooting death of 9-year-old Landen Lavarnia on March 20, 2017. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
2 of 7
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and Sgt. Vince Lewis discuss the case against Kansas and Wendy Lavarnia, whose 9-year-old son Landen was fatally shot by his brother. The parents are facing first-degree murder charges. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
3 of 7
Kansas and Wendy Lavarnia, the parents of Landen Lavarnia — who was fatally shot by his 2-year-old brother — are facing first-degree murder charges after police found evidence they delayed calling 911 to clean up the crime scene.
4 of 7
Police arrest parents of 9-year-old boy fatally shot in head by toddler.
5 of 7
Valerie Corona and her two children, who know the 9-year-old neighbor who was shot in the head, stand in front of the house where the shooting took place and talk about the little boy, Tuesday, March 21, 2017. Tom Tingle/azcentral.com
6 of 7
Video shows Wendy Lavarnia appearing before a judge for the first time since her arrest. She is accused of putting a firearm within the reach of two young children, one of whom shot their 9-year-old brother in the head on March 20, 2017, in Phoenix.
7 of 7
911 call made after 9-year-old was shot, killed
Facts of 9-year-old Phoenix boy Landen Lavarnia’s fatal shooting
Phoenix police officials comment on 9-year-old boy’s shooting death
Parents of boy, 9, shot in head facing murder charges
Police arrest parents of 9-year-old boy fatally shot in head by toddler
Family knows Phoenix boy who was shot
VIDEO: Mom arrested after tot shoots 9-year-old brother
The fatal shooting of a 9-year-old boy in Phoenix, which resulted in murder charges against his parents, leaves multiple questions about what occurred as investigators continue to review a timeline of what happened and the mother’s initial story.
Here’s what we know now, based on court records and Phoenix police statements, and what remains unanswered:
Phoenix police were called to a home near 35th and Rosewood avenues in northwest Phoenix about 3 p.m. Monday and found Landen Lavarnia shot once in the head. The boy’s mother, 28-year-old Wendy Lavarnia, was stoic and cooperated with investigators, said Sgt. Vince Lewis, police spokesman. She told police she had placed a loaded 9mm handgun on the master bed, next to her 2- and 4-year-old sons.
The 2-year-old, who previously was allowed to “practice” pulling the trigger of the unloaded gun, picked up the weapon and fired it, Wendy Lavarnia told police. A bullet struck Landen in the head as he played video games a few feet away, she told police.
Landen was transported to a hospital in critical condition.
Wendy Lavarnia said her husband, 31-year-old Kansas Lavarnia, was out shopping. He returned to the home nearly three hours after authorities arrived. He had a wound on his arm, which was wrapped in a crude makeshift bandage of tissue paper and clear packing tape. Police said it appeared as if he took a screwdriver to his arm to try to disguise a gunshot wound.
The hospitalized 9-year-old remained on life support until he was declared dead Tuesday.
Wendy Lavarnia was initially booked into jail on suspicion of four counts of child abuse in connection with endangering her children, according to police. Kansas Lavarnia also was taken into custody on suspicion of illegally possessing a weapon, which he was prohibited from having because of a prior felony conviction.
Police have stressed that the investigation is continuing. They continue to evaluate the mother’s account of what happened, as well as the father’s role in the series of events.
Why murder charges?
Initial charges against the couple were amended Wednesday after police alleged that before Wendy Lavarnia called authorities, the pair had cleaned up a bloody mess as their boy lay dying.
Police said that during the investigation, an examination of the shooting “revealed what appears to be a substantial amount of blood cleanup that was done inside the home prior to emergency services being called to aid Landen.”
Cleaned blood residue was found in multiple rooms of the house, including several sinks in bathrooms and the kitchen, police said.
Wipes or towels that were used to clean up the blood were not found at the residence, but detectives did discover trace amounts of blood in the family vehicle along with two empty cans of stain remover, police said.
“The delay in care was significant here, and that’s what ultimately led to the charge of first-degree murder,” Lewis said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Why couldn’t Kansas Lavarnia have a gun?
Kansas Lavarnia is a convicted felon who served prison time in both Arizona and Ohio, court records state. He and Wendy have been together as early as 2009 when he pleaded guilty to multiple unrelated counts of burglary, theft and endangerment. Kansas Lavarnia spent three years in custody in Arizona and was released in February 2012. Previously, a drug conviction had him in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for about 10 months. He was released in September 2004.
As a felon, he was classified as a prohibited possessor who did not have his gun rights restored, Lewis said. Police said Kansas Lavarnia made statements to police that he knew the gun was in the home, which was a violation.
What are police saying?
At the news conference Wednesday afternoon, law-enforcement officials spoke about the severity of the incident and how life-saving measures could have been provided earlier.
“We have a 9-year-old boy critically wounded, shot in the head, in dire need of life-saving efforts and care which was delayed and not provided to this young man. It definitely shocks your conscience,” Lewis said.
Chief Jeri Williams added that Landen’s death had a significant impact beyond the public safety realm.
“What we’ve learned through this investigation is that significant efforts were made to scrub the house clean and remove evidence while this young boy lay shot and dying,” Williams said. “This investigation will continue until justice is ultimately brought about. But, until then, our hearts go out to the remaining family members, to the officers and firefighters and emergency personnel impacted by this, and to all of those folks who loved Landen.”
School district: Landen was a ‘very sweet and kind boy’
Landen was a second-grade student at Sahuaro Elementary School who was described as creative and helpful in the classroom, the Washington Elementary School District said in a statement released this week.
“Landen was a very sweet and kind boy who was a good friend to all. He was very smart, creative and clever, and always helped his classmates when working in groups. The loss of a student is heartbreaking and everyone at Sahuaro Elementary is grieving this sudden and tragic loss,” the statement said.
In a letter to parents, Sahuaro Elementary School Principal Deb Menendez wrote that the hearts of faculty and staff were broken by Landen’s death.
“The loss of a child is the most difficult loss for any school, staff, and certainly for our students. We are all grieving, but I know that as a learning community we will lean on each other, support each other and comfort one another,” Menendez wrote. “Please keep our students and their teachers, and more importantly, the family of our student in your thoughts during this sad time.”
The elementary school, which is now on spring break, has initiated a plan with the district’s crisis team to notify parents of the incident. Social workers are scheduled to meet with all second grade students and their families when school continues on Monday, the district said.
Where are the rest of the children now?
In addition to Landen, Wendy and Kansas Lavarnia had three other children who were living in the home: boys ages 4 and 2 and a baby girl.
The Arizona Department of Child Safety announced Wednesday that they had multiple contacts with the couple after Wendy Lavarnia had given birth to two substance-exposed newborns in 2014 and 2015.
The children, including Landen, initially were taken from the residence after in-home services were used, according to a DCS statement. Lavarnia filed for a dependency petition in the Maricopa County Juvenile Court, and the case was later closed in June 2016 after the family successfully completed services through the department, the DCS said.
After the shooting, the children were placed in a licensed foster home, the agency reported Wednesday.
What are we waiting to learn?
As the investigation continues, many key elements of what occurred still remain unknown to the public.
- How was Wendy Lavarnia’s story inconsistent with evidence police discovered at the house?
- Did the 2-year-old pull the trigger? Investigators continue to review the mother’s version of events, but evidence suggests she was not completely truthful in her initial account, authorities said.
- Was Kansas Lavarnia in the home at the time of the shooting?
- Who shot Kansas Lavarnia? Was it with the same firearm? And could it have been with the same round that struck Landen’s head?
- Who cleaned up the home?
- Where was the father when paramedics arrived?
Read or Share this story: http://azc.cc/2mSzsQw