A 16-year-old boy was charged with murder Wednesday after prosecutors say he shot and killed his 13-year-old sister in their Salt Lake City home last month.
On the afternoon of April 26, Joseph Landers was at home near Sherwood Park with his sister, Angelica Hernandez, who was attending online school while sitting on the couch, court documents state. Three other boys sat on the couch with Angelica, and the group was chatting when Joseph pulled a gun out of his pocket and said, “Who’s trying to get popped?”
Angelica told her brother to shut up, charging documents state, “because what if you accidentally do pull it?” Then Joseph loaded a clip into the weapon and cocked it back to scare her, the children who witnessed it told police. Joseph then pointed the gun at the girl, so the gun’s laser sight was on her head.
Joseph then said, “Oh, should I shoot her right here? Right here?” while Angelica sat quietly, court documents state. He then pulled the trigger, and after the shot rang out, Landers said “s---, s---, s---, Kica.” Court documents indicate “Kica” was a nickname for Angelica.
Joseph then ran to his mother, who had been in her room talking on her phone, the documents state.
“Mom, mom, I want my mom. I’m so sorry, I shot Kica,” Joseph told her, according to court documents. The woman went to check on her daughter and found her bleeding on the couch.
Joseph then ran out of the house, and later texted his mother, “Mom, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to mama,” according to court documents.
The brother was later found on a Utah Transit Authority bus less than a half-mile from the home. He initially told police that his friend had shot Angelica, and that he ran away because he didn’t want to witness what happened to her, court documents state. He later admitted that he shot his sister.
“The defendant had no regard for the safety or lives of others, including his little sister,” a Salt Lake County prosecutor wrote in charging documents. “The on-going criminal behavior and escalation of violence demonstrates that the defendant is a substantial danger to the community and the witnesses who observed him shoot the victim.”
As a minor, Joseph’s cited juvenile criminal history is not public record, but the charging documents in the homicide case are because Joseph was charged as an adult. Those charging documents state that the boy has previous felony convictions in juvenile court, including burglary, unlawful control of a vehicle and theft of a vehicle.
Salt Lake City police seized a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun with an extended magazine and attached laser sight from the home where Angelica was shot, according to court documents. Investigators also recovered a spent cartridge casing at the scene.
Joseph faces two felony charges in the homicide case: first-degree murder, and possession or use of a firearm by a restricted person, court records state. The boy is subject to enhanced penalties because of his felony convictions in juvenile court.
The origin of the gun prosecutors say Joseph used in the shooting remains unclear, a spokesperson with the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office said. Prosecutors are not pursuing charges against the children’s mother, the spokesperson added.
The state of Utah has no statutory safe-storage requirements for firearms. State lawmakers rejected a measure in April that would have required guns to be secured and held gun owners criminally liable if a person accessed an owner’s unsecured firearm and committed a crime.
The brother is currently being held at the Salt Lake Valley juvenile detention center. A court hearing in the case is slated for May 15.