Andrew Messina, an Etowah High School sophomore, was shot once in the abdomen after threatening to kill his mother at their home in the Eagle Watch subdivision, authorities say.
The shooting occurred following an hour of negotiations with officers on the scene, who said they saw the young man pouring alcohol on the curtains in what they believed was an effort to burn the house down. He then brandished a gun, according to Sheriff Roger Garrison.
Garrison, who called the shooting a tragic event, said the teen was armed with a .357 Magnum revolver when deputies tried to negotiate with him.
He also said the young man was taking prescription medication and possibly consuming alcohol at the time of the incident.
“This is the first time we’ve negotiated with someone this young before (and) never with a weapon such as this,” Garrison said. “We’ve been faced with knives before, but never with a loaded weapon and this state of rage.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting, Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Jay Baker said. The deputy involved with the shooting, whose name was not released, has been placed on routine administrative leave with pay.
GBI Spokesperson John Bankhead said he could not say how long the investigation would take.
Garrison said he believed law enforcement authorities followed protocol throughout the two-hour ordeal.
“Unfortunately, the gentleman dictated what happened,” he said. “We had our best people over there trying to do negotiations, it just didn’t work.”
Garrison said his heart goes out to the family.
“We’re all praying for that family,” he said. “We just want them to know that we’re thinking about them. It’s just a tragic, tragic, turn of events.”
Neighbors on the quiet cul-de-sac street in the Towne Lake neighborhood said they were shocked and surprised by the series of events that led to Messina’s death and questioned whether it could have been avoided.
Mark Prentice, who lives just down the street from the house where the shooting took place, said he spoke with Messina’s father Wednesday morning and that he was “devastated” by the turn of events.
“I’m just appalled,” Prentice said. “I knew the kid, he was a good kid.”
Prentice, who witnessed the event, said he didn’t think Messina’s behavior warranted being shot fatally.
“I think they could have exhausted a lot more options before they did what they did,” Prentice said
The situation began early Tuesday evening when deputies were dispatched in response to a request for help from Messina’s mother around 5:50 p.m. to the home at 921 Laurel Crest Drive.
Garrison said that although it was originally reported the mother was taken hostage by her son, that was not the case.
The mother had already come outside, according to the 911 phone call. The 911 operator directed her to exit the home, which she did before police arrived.
During the call, the operator asked the mother what set her son off.
“What set him off is that his grades aren’t good, I don’t like the friends he’s hanging out with, stuff like that,” the mother said on the 911 call.
When asked by the operator if her son was “out of his mind,” Messina’s mother said “yeah.”
Messina remained inside the residence while negotiators and the SWAT team were called to the scene, where they attempted to communicate by phone and in person with the suspect.
However, Messina refused to communicate that way, Garrison said.
“(Negotiators) could see the door was ajar and he was pouring alcohol on curtains in the home and saying he was about to burn the house down,” Garrison said. “He was trying to get the dog to go outside, which was why the door was open.”
After about an hour of negotiations, Garrison said Messina made an “aggressive move” by breaking through the door’s glass window with the gun in his hand, pointed toward officers who were at that point about 10 feet away.
“When the glass broke and the gun came through the window toward police officers, the sniper fired the shot,” Garrison said. “Clearly, those officers were in jeopardy.”
“Had it not been that, we had no intentions of entering the home,” Garrison said. “We would have stayed there and would still be negotiating today. He dictated what we had to do.”
Based on information that mother provided in the 911 call, Messina was on two separate kinds of medication, Garrison said.
“It was pretty obvious that he was consuming alcohol,” Garrison said. “That combination … contributed to this apparent rage that he was in. In the 911 call, you can hear him screaming … screaming at his mother, screaming at everything.”
The sheriff said no other drugs were discovered in the home.
All police officers are trained to use deadly force whenever anyone’s life is in jeopardy, Garrison said.
“Had he possibly waited a second longer, (the suspect) could have discharged his weapon,” Garrison said. “Bottom line is, it’s just a tragic, tragic sad situation.”
Following the shooting, Messina was transported to WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta where he was later pronounced dead.
A release from the Cherokee County School District said that grief counselors were at the school Wednesday to help students deal with the situation.
In the release, school system spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said the school district is “deeply saddened” by the loss of the student.