Man arrested in shooting death of 13-year-old Granite City boy

News-DemocratMay 3, 2013 

— Police announced the arrest of a man Thursday night in connection with shooting death of Clayton Veninga, 13, the night before.

Maj. Jeff Connor, the city's assistant police chief, declined to discuss a motive in the Granite City boy's shooting, or what evidence led to the suspect, whom Connor described as "an acquaintance."

The case will be presented Friday for prosecution to the office of Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons, Connor said.

Connor declined to state the age of the suspect, other than to say he qualifies for prosecution as an adult, "which under state law means he's 17 or older," he said.

Since Clayton's shooting death at 9:25 p.m. Wednesday, "there's been some concern that maybe this was targeted at somebody else," Connor said. "I will say at this time we really don't know if he was targeted. There was speculation. But to be able to say for certainty, I don't know for sure."

Angela Veninga, Clayton's mother, talked to reporters immediately after the press conference.

A single mother of three, Veninga, between tears, said she was "happy" about the suspect's arrest because "my son is getting justice."

Veninga declined to discuss a motive behind her son's homicide, but described it as being "at the wrong place at the wrong time."

Clayton loved playing football and dreamed one day of joining the U.S. Army, Veninga said.

Blaine Buchanan found his dying friend Clayton collapsed in a puddle after being shot Wednesday night.

"I just told him, 'Bro, keep awake! Keep awake," Buchanan said on Thursday.

Buchanan, 23, and Clayton, 13, were sitting on a friend's porch at 2012 Cleveland in Granite City, where Buchanan and Clayton's friend, identified only as "Tootie," lived, when the two decided to walk home about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Clayton dawdled, and as they left the home, shots came from across the street from where Tootie lives.

"We heard 'Bam! Bam! Bam!' and we just took off running -- me, Clayton, Tootie and Tootie's momma," Buchanan said. "Then I saw Clayton grab his side and he ran behind the house and we ran in front of the house."

Clayton ran down an alley before he reached a house two doors down. Buchanan found him collapsed in a puddle in the home's driveway.

"I just started yelling, 'Somebody help me!,'" Buchanan said.

Clayton was taken to Gateway Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Connor said officers from his department were dispatched shortly before 9:30 p.m. Wednesday to the 2000 block of Cleveland Boulevard for a report of a shooting. The victim was located and had a possible gunshot wound, Connor said.

Clayton was a student in the Granite City school district's junior high program for students with special learning needs and was truant in 2012. He also got in trouble March 21 for disorderly conduct after yelling and cussing at his classmates, according to a police citation.

But his grandmother said he was a loving child who spent the past six months caring for her. Rose Terrell said she is a cancer patient who came to rely on Clayton.

She also said her grandson was a standout football player at quarterback and running back for his junior football team.

Sarah Ramlawi, 18, who lived at the home where Clayton was shot, said she was sitting near him on the front porch when he was hit. She described her friend as, "A good kid. I never saw him in a fight. He would walk to the store for you. Always ready to help."

Wilson Howard, 19, another friend of the victim, described him as a "cool kid" who got along with other young people who live on the block.

"To know you can't sit on your porch at night, it's extremely sketchy," Howard said.

The location where police believe the shots were fired is a house across the street catty-corner from the porch where Clayton was sitting. Neighbors said it has been vacant for months.

Granite City Superintendent Jim Greenwald said Clayton's death was unfortunate.

"Anytime there's a loss of a child it's devastating," Greenwald said. "You hope that they are safe not only in the educational setting but in their private lives as well."

Police were asking for the public's help. Connor said anyone who has any information about the crime should call Granite City police at 877-6111.

The 2000 block of Cleveland Boulevard is in the downtown area of Granite City, directly across the street from Riverbend Head Start and Family Services and within blocks of City Hall, a library, a movie theater and other businesses.

A shrine for Clayton with balloons and candles was developing Thursday afternoon on the porch where he was shot, as well as at the spot where he died three houses away. A Granite City police detective pulled up about 4:15 p.m. Thursday at the house from where Clayton's friend said the shots were fired, picked something off the ground and bagged it as evidence.

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