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Utah boy, 14, faces murder charges in fatal West Valley City shooting of 2 teens

Prosecutors have said they want the boy to be charged in adult court.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) More that a hundred people gather at a candlelight vigil for Hunter High football players Paul Tahi , 15, Tivani Lopati, 14, and Ephraim Asiata, 15, on Friday, Jan 14, 2022, in West Valley City, near Hunter High School along 1400 South at Mountain View Corridor. Paul Tahi and Tivani Lopati were killed in the shooting, while Ephraim Asiata is still in the hospital.

The 14-year-old boy accused of fatally shooting two high school students and critically wounding another in West Valley City this month was charged with murder Wednesday.

According to charging documents filed in 3rd District Juvenile Court, the child faces two counts of murder, two counts of felony discharge of a firearm, and one count each of obstructing justice, possession of a weapon on school premises, and possession of a handgun by a minor.

Last week, prosecutors indicated that they wanted the boy to be charged in adult court, where, if convicted, he could face up to life in prison, as an adult would. If his case remains in the juvenile system, he can be held in youth lockup until he is 21.

The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify juvenile defendants unless they have been certified to stand trial in adult court.

The shooting happened Jan. 13 near Hunter High School, after two groups of high school students got into an argument, then a physical fight on a sidewalk along 4100 South, police said.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Onlookers console one another as police investigate a shooting near Hunter High School in West Valley City Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.

According to charging documents, the two groups had been in a dispute with each other for more than a year before the shooting. The 14-year-old suspect told police that on Jan. 13, he and his friends had been harassed by a group of boys at Hunter High.

A short distance away from the school, the two groups got into a fight, but a passerby broke it up, documents state.

Farther west on 4100 South, the groups resumed fighting. The 14-year-old told police that he then fired a gun into the crowd before running away, documents state.

Authorities later found the handgun that the boy said he’d fired next to a residential fence; he told police he’d thrown it over the fence as he ran, according to court documents.

Two boys were killed in the shooting: Tivani Lopati, 14, and Paul Tahi, 15. A third boy, Ephraim Asiata, was critically wounded and hospitalized. Charging documents state he was shot in the abdomen, which damaged his liver.

Although Ephraim, 15, is no longer in the ICU, he remains hospitalized and has “a long road ahead of him,” his uncle said at the hospital Sunday. The uncle said doctors initially gave his nephew a “1% chance” of surviving his injuries.

All three boys who were shot attended Hunter High School, where they also played football.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) More that a hundred people gather at the candlelight vigil of Hunter High football players Paul Tahi , 15, Tivani Lopati, 14, and Ephraim Asiata, 15, on Friday, Jan 14, 2022, in West Valley City, near Hunter High School along 1400 South at Mountain View Corridor. Paul Tahi and Tivani Lopati were killed in a shooting, while Ephraim Asiata remains in critical condition.

In the hearing Wednesday, the suspect’s attorneys told Juvenile Court Judge Mark May that the boy wanted to be released from juvenile detention and go home to his parents.

Salt Lake County prosecutor Adrianna Davis said the boy was a danger to the community and should remain in custody.

The judge denied the boy’s release request. Another court hearing in the case is slated for March 3.

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