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Two adults charged after 7-year-old brings gun to Grand Rapids school

Door to the Grand Rapids Police headquarters
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio

A mother and her fiancée are facing criminal charges after a 7-year-old brought a gun to school in Grand Rapids.

The mother, Aubrey Wilson, is facing a 4th degree child abuse charge. Her fiancée, Chelsea Berkley, has been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

“We’re going to investigate and follow up and do anything we can do to make sure these guns are kept out of the hands of kids and kept out of the schools,” said Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, who announced the charges. “This could have been a very dangerous incident.”

The incident happened on May 3, when the child brought an unloaded gun to Cesar E. Chavez elementary school in Grand Rapids. A week later, an 8-year-old brought a gun to a different Grand Rapids elementary school. That time, the gun was loaded, and a bullet was in the chamber, according to Grand Rapids police chief Eric Winstrom.

“I don’t think there’s any connection between those two,” Winstrom said. “But just the coincidence and how alarming it was that everyone knew the week before this case, May 3, how outrageous it was that a 7-year-old would have a gun - and then to see an 8-year-old walk into school with a loaded gun shortly thereafter was astounding to me.”

Winstrom says his department is still investigating the second incident, and more charges could be coming. The second incident prompted Grand Rapids Public Schools to ban backpacks for all students through the end of the year.

Becker says he hopes the charges announced Tuesday send a signal to other adults who have guns.

“It goes beyond parents,” Becker said. “I mean this is any adult that has access to a firearm that’s going to put them in a position where kids have access to it. So we can’t just focus on parents, I think we need to focus on anybody who has a gun and they may have kids in their house, just visiting even. That’s the message I think we want to send. It covers all adults.”

Governor Whitmer signed legislation last month that requires gun owners to safely store their firearms, and creates new penalties for those that don’t. That law has not yet taken effect. Becker said it wouldn’t have made a huge difference in this case.

“We wouldn’t have been able to charge much more than this than we have now,” Becker said, pointing out that violating the new safe-storage law will be a misdemeanor, similar to a 4th degree child abuse charge.

But, Becker said, the new storage law will be useful going forward, to make clear that adults are responsible for protecting kids from guns.

“This just provides more clarity, I think for everybody, whether it be law enforcement in terms of what charges we can file, and for, quite frankly, the public, to know what behavior is tolerated and not tolerated,” Becker said.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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