Parents of 9-year-old boy fatally shot now face first-degree murder chargesPosted: Updated:
The parents of a 9-year-old boy who died after being shot in the head Monday are now facing first-degree murder charges.
The Phoenix Police Department announced Wednesday that the parents, Kansas and Wendy Lavarnia, tried to "clean up and cover up" the shooting and delayed seeking medical care for the critically-injured child.
Kansas Eric Lavarnia, 31, now faces one felony count of first-degree murder, one felony count of child abuse and one felony count of hindering prosecution. Wendy Lavarnia, 28, now faces one felony count of first-degree murder.
During a police news conference Wednesday afternoon, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams called the fatal shooting of the boy a "tragic death."
The shooting happened Monday, March 20, at a home in the 3500 block of West Rosewood Avenue. That's near 35th Avenue and Cactus Road.
Why investigators are seeking murder charges
On Wednesday, police revealed startling additional details about the investigation, including reports of a gunshot wound to the father's arm, and alleged efforts to "clean up and cover up" what happened.
Initially, Wendy Lavarnia told investigators that Kansas, a convicted felon, was not at the home Monday when the shooting occurred. She also told officers that their 2-year-old son picked up a loaded weapon and fatally shot his 9-year-old sibling, now identified as Landen Lavarnia.
But police later found key elements of that story were inconsistent with the evidence.
"The account given by Landen's mother was not consistent with the physical evidence found at the scene," said Phoenix Police Sgt. Vince Lewis during a Wednesday briefing.
The new court documents reveal that Kansas had suffered a gunshot wound to his upper left arm. According to the documents, it was a "single fresh through and through gunshot wound," and that "it does not appear that this wound could have been self-inflicted."
"Kansas had a suspicious injury, which was determined to be a gunshot wound," said Lewis. "Kansas made an obvious attempt to conceal this injury."
Wendy told police that "Kansas was not injured when he left the home to go shopping" earlier, according to the documents. Police also say the wound was "poorly bandaged" with "tissue paper and a distinct clear packing tape."
Additionally, the new court documents state: "Around the most visible gunshot hole, it appeared as if Kansas's skin had been punctured multiple times with possibly a flat head screwdriver in an attempt to camouflage the gunshot wound. These puncture wounds could have been self-inflicted."
Later, when a search warrant was served at the home, investigators say "a roll of clear packing tape was found in the home's trash, visually matching the tape from Kansas' crudely fashioned bandage."
Investigators also tested for trace amounts of blood at the scene. According to court documents, "this 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 [the child.] Detectives found cleaned blood residue in the master bedroom, master bath, main bath, hallway and kitchen area and sinks."
Extensive efforts were made to clean up the scene and remove evidence," said Lewis."There was evidence of blood that was cleaned from several rooms within the home."
The Lavarnias' vehicle was also searched.
"The trunk of the vehicle driven by Kansas also had trace amounts of blood. In the passenger compartment, two empty cans of stain removal cleaner were found," stated the court documents.
The court documents continue: "The removal of bloody items and cleaning supplies in the Lavarnia vehicle constitutes hindering prosecution by Kansas Lavarnia."
Sgt. Lewis said there was evidence that Kansas "played a role in the cleanup and cover-up of what happened."
The court documents go on to state: "The visual lack of blood, the extent of occulted blood residue, and the lack of soiled and bloody cleanup materials implies that a significant amount of time and effort was taken prior to contacting emergency services. The amount of clean up evidenced could not have been accomplished during the two minute police response time, and police secured the home after their arrival preventing any subsequent cleanup."
"The intentional delay of urgently needed emergency care by both Kansas Lavarnia and Wendy Lavarnia medical treatment significantly endangered the health of [the child]," states the court paperwork.
The paperwork goes on to read: "As a result of the deliberately delayed emergency care and subsequent death of [the child] both parents are charged with first-degree murder.
"What we've learned from this investigation is that significant efforts were made to scrub the house clean and remove evidence while this young boy lay shot and dying," said Chief Williams. "This affects our officers, our firefighters and no doubt our whole community."
A community mourns a 9-year-old victim
Landen Lavarnia was a second grader at Sahuaro Elementary School in the Washington School District.
The principal sent a letter home to parents, telling them of the child's death and letting them know a crisis team was in place. In the letter, the principal described Landen as a sweet, kind boy who was smart and clever and always helping his classmates.
Kansas Lavarnia's sister echoed that sentiment when contacted via social media.
"All I will say about Kansas and Wendy is they love their kids," she wrote. "Landen was an amazing little guy that was so smart and caring. He was genuinely happy all of the time and he absolutely loved being a big brother and would have done anything for his siblings. The world lost a truly beautiful soul in this situation."
A history of trouble in the home
According to a preliminary report from the Department of Child Safety, there had been reports of suspected child abuse or neglect before involving Wendy.
In June of 2014, Wendy, whose name was Wendy Rodriguez at the time, was suspected of having given birth to a newborn who was exposed to methadone and heroin. Wendy agreed to in-home services but then she tested positive for illegal substances. In August, Landen and a sibling were removed from the home.
Both parents agreed to participate in services to address their substance abuse and domestic violence issues. They completed parenting classes and their children were returned to their custody on November 15, 2015.
But 10 days later, there was another report that Wendy gave birth to a substance-exposed newborn, this time for methadone. DCS said the accusation was unsubstantiated since methadone was prescribed by Wendy's doctor as part of her treatment plan.
A judge dismissed the dependency in March of 2016 after the couple showed they made behavioral changes to parent their kids and the case was closed last June, DCS said.
DCS said that the three Lavarnia children are staying with a licensed foster home.
The statement fro DCS can be read below:
PHOENIX (Wednesday, March 22, 2017) - The Arizona Department of Child Safety mourns the tragic loss of Landen Lavarnia and our thoughts and prayers go out to the children involved in this horrific incident.
When a senseless tragedy occurs and an innocent life is lost, we as a department are deeply affected because protecting children is our ultimate focus.
DCS is dedicated to finding justice for Landen and will assist law enforcement in every way possible.
The Arizona Department of Child Safety can confirm that Wendy Lavarnia and Kansas Lavarnia had a previous dependency case with DCS involving the child, Landen Lavarnia, who died on March 21, 2017.
On June 10, 2014, DCS received a report that Wendy Lavarnia, then named Wendy Rodriguez, gave birth to a baby who was substance exposed to methadone and heroin.
Ms. Lavarnia agreed to in-home services with DCS.
She was referred to participate in Family Preservation services in order to address parenting skills, substance abuse issues, and provide additional support for the family.
While receiving in-home services, Ms. Lavarnia tested positive for illegal substances.
Due to Ms. Lavarnia’s failure to provide adequate housing and to comply with services and the safety plan, DCS removed the Lavarnia children on August 20, 2014. The Department filed a dependency petition with the Maricopa County Juvenile Court.
Both parents participated in services and worked towards reunifying with their children. Both engaged in services to address their substance abuse and domestic violence issues. They also received intensive parenting training and successfully completed this service. The children were returned to their physical custody on November 15, 2015. However, the court maintained oversight and DCS maintained legal custody of the children.
On November 25, 2015, a report was received that Ms. Lavarnia’s baby was born substance exposed to methadone. The baby was doing well and Ms. Lavarnia had received prenatal care. The report was unsubstantiated, as methadone was prescribed by a doctor as part of Ms. Lavarnia’s treatment plan.
In March 2016, a Maricopa County Juvenile Court judge dismissed the dependency after the parents demonstrated they had made the appropriate behavioral changes to safely parent their children. The department continued to engage the family until the case closure in June 2016.
Landen’s three siblings are currently in DCS care. The department is committed to ensuring that they receive all support services possible given the trauma they have endured.
Wendy did not have an attorney and spoke little when she appeared briefly before a judge Tuesday after being arrested and jailed.
She asked the judge whether she could go to the hospital to check on her son's condition, but the judge said she couldn't get out of jail without posting a $25,000 bond. The judge also said she had to stay away from victims in the case as well as any children.
The only comments made by Kansas during his first court hearing were when he stated his full name and date of birth in response to a question.
Based on Arizona Department of Corrections records, Kansas spent time in prison on convictions of theft and possession of burglary tools from incidents in 2009. He was admitted on Nov. 24, 2009, and released a little more than five years ago in February 2012. As a convicted felon, Kansas is a "prohibited possessor" and thus is not allowed to own or carry a gun.
Wendy's next court appearance is set for March 25. Kansas is due back in court March 28.
Judges ordered both held in lieu of $1 million bond each.
Police say the family had lived in their home for about a year.
A Go Fund Me account has been set up in Landen Lavarnia's name.
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