Teen shooter pleads guilty

HOLLIDAYSBURG – A teenager who accidentally shot and killed his best friend the day after Christmas has agreed to help the Blair County District Attorney’s Office make an educational video describing the impact the incident had on him and warning other young people about the danger of guns.

Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva included the video project in a sentence she handed down late Wednesday afternoon in the case of the 18-year-old who entered pleas to involuntary manslaughter and theft before the juvenile court. Both charges are misdemeanors.

The case was in juvenile court rather than adult court because the high school senior was 17 – still a juvenile – when the shooting occurred.

The judge found him “delinquent” and placed him on indeterminate probation.

He has a 10 p.m. curfew each day and must perform 40 hours of community service.

The teen is undergoing counseling through the school, has a job and plays baseball, which are activities he must continue as part of his probation, said the judge.

Five years after successfully completing his probation, the boy can apply to have his record expunged.

The teen appeared in Kopriva’s courtroom with his parents Wednesday for sentencing on charges stemming from the Dec. 26 shooting when he went to the home of his best friend, Jesse T. McElhinney, 16, of 125 E. Third Ave.

McElhinney, who lived with his grandparents, Dean and Beverly Sprankle, was sleeping in an upstairs bedroom, according to Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio.

The teen went upstairs to awaken his friend and used the barrel of the handgun he had taken from his parents’ house to poke the sleeping boy in the head. The gun went off, Consiglio said following the hourlong hearing.

The juvenile was friends with McElhinney and his older brother, and he was well-liked by the grandparents.

Beverly Sprankle tearfully told Kopriva how hard it is when she does everyday chores, like laundry, because she missed her grandson so much, but she made it clear that she did not want the 18-year-old to suffer any more.

“We don’t want to hurt his life, ruin another person’s life, even though we are having a bad time,” Beverly Sprankle said. “We really care for him.”

She told Kopriva she would not object if the 18-year-old went to church with her surviving grandson.

Kopriva said she admired the grandmother’s courage in her address to the court.

When it came time for the teen to speak, his words also broke with emotion, and he said, “I’m sorry.”

Turning to the grandparents he said, “I love you guys. If there is anything I can do for you …”

As the young man left the courtroom, he reached back and touched Dean Sprankle, who was talking to victim-witness coordinator Susan Griep, on the shoulder.

Normally the court would prohibit the 18-year-old from contacting the victim’s family, but Kopriva said in view of the way both families feel about each other, she will allow them to determine how much contact is appropriate.

Griep said she came up with the idea of making an educational video. She received Consiglio’s permission and the young man agreed to cooperate.

She said the shooting touched so many people, not only McElhinney’s family, but a church community, a school district and the community as a whole.

“So many people were touched by the loss of life of this boy,” she said.

The 18-year-old was represented by attorney Steven P. Passarello, who said the shooting was “an unfortunate tragic situation.”

For him it was the second such accidental killing of a boy by his best friend while playing with a gun in recent months. In July, 15-year-old Neal Hammond was shot and killed by another 15-year-old as they played with a loaded revolver in West Providence Township, Bedford County.