A 14-year-old Grovetown boy who shot and killed a 13-year-old girl on Halloween was sentenced to two years’ probation Friday morning in Columbia County Juvenile Court.
In addition, Christian Neibel must undergo continued counseling and attend the juvenile court’s class on decision-making, as sentenced by Judge Doug Flanagan.
Juvenile Court prosecutor Rodney Brown, who had recommended 18 months’ probation, said the shooting of Kristen Burnette, 13, was accidental.
Neibel and two other teens were at Burnette’s home that evening to watch a movie. No adults were present, Brown said. When the movie ended, Neibel and another boy started “milling through the house” while Burnette sat in the dining room at a laptop computer, he said.
Neibel and the boy found a 12-gauge shotgun lying on top of a gun case in the closet of the master bedroom of the home, and after checking it thought the gun was unloaded, Brown said. The other boy went to the bathroom, and heard a loud “boom.”
That sound was the shotgun discharging as Neibel pointed it at Burnette and pulled the trigger, Brown said. An autopsy later determined she died from being struck in the head by three pellets from buckshot.
Burnette’s mother, Ashley Lunsford, agreed that the shooting was unintentional.
“I know this was just an accident,” she said. “I’d like to see him go through some therapy and counseling, and maybe some firearms training to better understand how firearms work.”
Neibel’s attorney, Adam King, described the boy as “utterly devastated” by the death of his friend in what he called “a tragic, tragic accident.
“He was playing with the gun. He shouldn’t have been,” King said, adding that Neibel, an A/B student, had admitted to the shooting and taken responsibility from the start.
“This is a good young man,” King said. “This is a good child.... He’s never been in trouble, he’s never been arrested” and deserves a second chance, he said.
“I’m deeply sorry,” Neibel said.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first case the court has had like this for the last year and a half or two years,” said Flanagan. “This case, like the other cases, has to do with unsecured weapons in people’s homes.”
Burnette’s death followed the March 29, 2012 fatal shooting of Eleanor “Elle” Kelly, 13, in Harlem, by a 14-year-old boy, and the shooting death of 14-year-old Alana May Calahan in Harlem Jan. 31, 2011.
Flanagan also instructed Brown to arrange for Neibel to visit schools to talk about the consequences of improper use of firearms.
“I think other people his age will be a lot better hearing it from him,” Flanagan said.