Grandparents: Teen was home with flu before deputy fired

MADISON — An eighth-grader fatally shot by police on a Native American reservation in northern Wisconsin came home from school with the flu that morning only to leave the house with a butcher knife for reasons unknown, his grandparents said Friday.

An Ashland County sheriff’s deputy shot 14-year-old Jason Pero just before mid-day Wednesday outside his home on the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation, a sprawling wooded area about 300 miles (483 kilometers) north of Madison.

Authorities have said the boy was carrying a knife, but state and local law enforcement have declined to release any information about what led up to the shooting. A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Justice Department, which is investigating the incident, declined comment Friday except to say the deputy has been placed on administrative leave.

Jason Pero’s grandfather, Alan Pero, told The Associated Press the boy lived with him and his wife, Cheryl Pero. He said they’d raised the boy since he was a year old and he dreamed of joining the military.

“He got murdered out in front of the house here,” Alan Pero said in a telephone interview. “He’s a boy. There’s warning shots. There’s Tasers. There’s pepper spray. You don’t go right on a 14-year-old kid and go for the kill zone.”

“I’m really having a hard time keeping my anger in,” his wife added. “You don’t come up to a 14-year-old boy and pull a gun on him and just fire. … That’s baloney. We’re asking questions. We’re not getting answers.”

Alan Pero said Jason had been sick for a few days. He went to school on Wednesday morning but came back to the house feeling nauseous, he said. The grandparents weren’t home, but Jason’s uncle was at the house. He told the grandparents that Jason Pero got a 7-Up, laid on the couch and started watching TV.

The uncle was downstairs doing laundry when the boy apparently walked outside. Alan Pero said the uncle doesn’t know why or how the boy left the house but he took a dull butcher knife with him. Alan Pero speculated that perhaps the boy had gone outside to throw up.

Cheryl Pero said she was at her job at a day care when she saw squad cars “flying by like crazy, and I just got a really sick feeling in my stomach knowing they were (heading in the direction of her house).”

She came home and saw her house ringed off with yellow police tape. In the yard was her grandson’s body.

“At first I didn’t really know that was him lying there,” she said. “When I was finally able to get a glance and recognize the clothing, that’s when I lost it. They cut off his shirt. It was laying there and they were doing (chest) compressions. That’s all I have my head.”

Both grandparents described Jason Pero as a gentle boy who played the drums for his tribe and wanted to become a Marine.

“He was a big old teddy bear,” Alan Pero said. “He teased his little nephews once in a while but that was the meanest part he had. Maybe he was doing something (with the knife) but he’d never hurt a fly. Never in his life.”

The Bad River reservation covers 124,655 acres along Lake Superior. The area is largely untouched wilderness, marked by thick forests and swamps. Tribal members consider the environment sacred, particularly Gichi Gami, the Chippewa name for Lake Superior.

The tribe led the fight against Republican legislation that dramatically relaxed Wisconsin’s iron mining regulations for an open-pit mine near the reservation. The mine never materialized. In January, the tribe called for removing 12 miles (19 kilometers) of an Enbridge oil pipeline from their reservation.