Should Vaughn Wylie get discharged?
That's the question a Family Court judge has been grappling with in the past few months.
Vaughn had just turned 13 when he got into a gunfight with an older teen on a South Philadelphia street in 2006, during which a stray bullet he fired hit 4-year-old Nashay Little in the left thigh.
Vaughn, now 15, has been in juvenile-placement facilities for more than two years. He appeared to be progressing well, and Judge Robert Rebstock had been considering releasing him - if Vaughn could be housed in a safe environment, and not in his old South Philly neighborhood of Mifflin Street near 22nd.
But a recent report from authorities at the George Junior Republic facility in western Pennsylvania has given authorities pause.
Angel Flores, chief of the District Attorney's Juvenile Court Unit, said after a court proceeding yesterday that in a Dec. 3 e-mail, a director at George Junior Republic indicated that Vaughn had punched another resident in an unprovoked incident.
Flores said that he had been under the impression that Vaughn had been abiding by the rules and was benefitting from his treatment.
If not for the e-mail, Flores said that he would have expected the judge to have released Vaughn at a Dec. 5 hearing.
Shevelle McPherson, Vaughn's attorney, also said yesterday that she had expected Vaughn to be discharged at that time.
It was about 7 p.m. June 13, 2006, when Vaughn and Malcolm Gantz, then 18, got into a gunfight. While firing at Gantz, Vaughn struck Nashay, who was playing outside a house on Sigel Street near 21st.
Vaughn pleaded guilty in August 2006 to aggravated assault and weapons violations.
He was sent to the Ravine Academy in Danville, Pa. Flores said that Vaughn had successfully completed that program and was then sent to George Junior Republic to see how he would fare in an environment that gave him more freedom.
Vaughn has been at George Junior Republic for about 14 months now.
The question of whether Vaughn should be discharged came up at a July hearing. Prosecutors objected, arguing that Vaughn's brother, Donte Wylie, 20, had been murdered June 17, and it was not safe for Vaughn to return to his neighborhood.
Rebstock agreed with keeping Vaughn in juvenile placement in July. In October he told Vaughn's mother, Kim Wylie, that if she could find another place for Vaughn to live outside the neighborhood, he would consider discharging Vaughn under stringent conditions, prosecutors have said.
Yesterday, Kim Wylie told the judge that a cousin of hers in Northeast Philadelphia was willing to take Vaughn in.
Flores told the judge that given the Dec. 3 report from George Junior Republic - and an earlier report indicating Vaughn's lack of remorse in the shooting - he did not think that Vaughn was ready to be released.
Flores said after the hearing that in the earlier report, authorities at George Junior Republic had indicated that Vaughn, when asked about shooting Nashay, claimed to have not been at the shooting scene.
In court, Flores asked the judge for Vaughn to be sent to a different facility that would be a better fit for him than George Junior Republic.
Kim Wylie, who also stood before the judge yesterday, expressed her frustration at the possibility of her son being sent to a third facility: "If you're going to keep him, keep him," she wept. "Why have him go from place to place to place?"
Rebstock said he was concerned for Vaughn's and the public's safety in light of Vaughn's recent fights, in which he allegedly punched another youth twice. "I think your son's going to kill somebody or be killed if I send him home," he said.
The judge set a status date of Jan. 12, by which time he asked probation officer Mike Whitaker to look into placement options.
Roxanne Little, 19, Nashay's mother, said by phone afterward that her daughter, now 6, still suffers from the shooting. "She's scared of loud noises" and has nightmares, the mother said.