Murderous Children: 10-Year-Old Joseph McVay Shot and Killed His Mother

Updated on September 27, 2016

Shot By Her Own Son

46-year-old Deborah McVay had argued just weeks before her death with her husband over the guns, once belonging to the child's grandfather, that he had given to their son.
46-year-old Deborah McVay had argued just weeks before her death with her husband over the guns, once belonging to the child's grandfather, that he had given to their son.

Why Guns and Children Don't Mix

On January 2nd, 2011, at around 6pm, near Big Prairie in Holmes County, Ohio, an argument between a woman and her 10-year-old son over a chore would turn deadly, and change both of their lives forever.

When police arrived at the McVay house that evening, after a 911 call by a neighbor, they found Deborah McVay, age 46, inside, lying face down on her living room floor with a single gunshot wound to the head. Deborah was already dead by the time they arrived. Her youngest child, Joseph McVay, would confess to, be arrested, and charged with his mother's gruesome murder. Joseph's 15-year-old sister, Shawna, witness her brother shoot her mother.

What could make a 10-year-old boy shoot his own mother in the head? Believe it or not, police believe he turned violent over an argument with his mother about firewood; his mother wanted him to bring some in the house, and apparently he didn't want to.

News Story About Deborah McVay's Murder (includes Joseph McVay's 911 call)

The Scene of the Murder

The McVay Family home, where Deborah McVay was shot to death by her 10 year old son Joseph, on the outskirts of Big Prairie, Ohio.
The McVay Family home, where Deborah McVay was shot to death by her 10 year old son Joseph, on the outskirts of Big Prairie, Ohio. | Source

What Happened and Why?

Was Joseph McVay's motive, as a child, really just to avoid doing a chore, without fully comprehending the consequences of his actions? or was there something more going on behind the scenes in the days that lead up to the tragic shooting of Deborah McVay?

Many details of the case, including any other possible theories of motive, have not been released to the public. Some very important details about the days before Deborah's death that can give a glimpse into what was going on in the McVay family prior to the murder have came out.

According to interviews with family members, including Joseph's father and sister, as well as school administrators, it has been established that Joseph was exposed to episodes of domestic abuse between and perpetrated by both of his parents. It is alleged that his mother was also emotionally and verbally abusive to him. The McVay home, a trailer in rural Ohio, was described by police as cluttered, unkempt, and dirty. Joseph had also shown some previous signs of anger and aggression.

In 2006, he reportedly was unruly on the bus, and had an altercation with the bus driver. In September of 2007, when Joseph was just 6 years old, after a disturbance in the classroom, he reportedly used a dustpan to swat at a school administrator. In addition, during interviews with school officials, Joseph was described as "polite" and "nice", but it was remarked that he experienced episodes where he would strike out at others in anger when provoked.

Deborah and her husband, Michael McVay, had separated only a few weeks prior to the shooting. At the time, he had an outstanding warrant for failure to pay child support. It is said that their separation intensified Joseph's angry outbursts, and he started displaying more behavioural problems.

On that January evening, when Deborah asked Joseph to bring in some firewood from outside, and that evolved into an intense argument, stated his sister, 15 year old Shawna McVay, who witnessed the murder. It apparently set him off, he told his sister he was tired of fighting with their mom, and he went to his bedroom and grabbed one of his guns. He then returned the living room and shot her. His sister then begged him not shoot her, and watched as he left the residence. He then went next door to the neighbour's house, and told them he had shot his mother and he needed an ambulance and the police. Joseph can be heard in the background of the 911 call yelling "I shot my mom!".

The gun Joseph used to shoot his mother was a 22 calibre rifle, one of 6 guns that the boy had been given by his father. The guns used to belong to his paternal grandfather, and he had inherited them. One of his parents recent and largest disagreements was over the guns. Deborah apparently did not approve of 10 year old Joseph having them in his room, but his father, Michael, disagreed. Joseph's older brother, Joshua McVay, says that the family is a country family, and that owning guns has always been a part of the family.

Joseph McVay and his lawyer at a hearing.
Joseph McVay and his lawyer at a hearing. | Source

Video Clip About Joseph McVay's Competency Hearing

Trial and Sentencing

Joseph McVay has been charged with murder as a juvenile (or "delinquency by virtue of committing murder") in the shooting death of his mother, Deborah McVay. He has entered a "denial" of the charge, which is the juvenile equivalent to a plea of not-guilty. If convicted, he faces detention until he turns 21.

As of August 2011, Joseph McVay has been deemed not competent to stand trial, because he does not fit the legal definition of competence. Now 11 years old, Joseph was evaluated by two psychologists who have stated he is mentally unfit to stand trial for his mother's murder at this time. They said Joseph suffers from anxiety and depression, also has a learning disability, and he has trouble talking about his mother's death, which impairs his ability to communicate with his lawyers for his defense. Both of the psychologists agreed that Joseph will benefit from counseling. No new trial date has been set, and only one of the psychologist's believe that he will be deemed competent within a year's time, but they both agree that with counseling, he will eventually be deemed fit, and the trial against him for the murder of Deborah McVay will then proceed.

Since the night of the shooting, Joseph had been staying in the Richland County Juvenile Detention center. He remained there until sometime in October of 2011, after the court ruled on the appropriate course of counseling that Joseph should receive. He has since been staying in an undisclosed treatment facility, where he will remain until he is competent to stand trial.


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    • AnnaCia profile image


      7 years ago

      What an awful story, but it is reality. I try to understand these behaviors and it is too difficult. The facts a many for a child to do this, but I am not sure if those children know the consequences of their acts.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      i have my own guns and im 13 i live in a small town that has a shooting range theres no way my parents would let me keep my guns in my room. mine are in a locked gunsafe in which the keys are always on my father even when he sleeps

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      8 years ago from the beautiful south

      The father should have been charged allowing a minor to have loaded guns, he probably hoped this would happen, what else could be in an adult mind to allow or encourage such a thing from a minor? The mother should have went with her instinct, it was her child and her home. Things like this is what makes gun possession look bad and what the government will eventually use to get guns out of American's hands although they can't take the crooks, of which they are in the count. We most get mad at parents and go through periods in our life not perfect and it does not make us all murderers, but then we didn't all have a room full of guns and bullets or who knows. Children with a missing parent from the home is especially sensitive I am sure. I have been around guns all my life and as a younger person I had a fiery temper but I can tell you I never once thought of shooting anyone.

    • louiseelcross profile image

      Louise Elcross 

      8 years ago from Preston

      Too many children are abused and then we wonder why they snap and fight back. A terrible tragic story of yet another abusive family. My parents were very abusive but I cannot imagine ever causing them harm. Very very sad story.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      8 years ago from Carson City

      A most unfortunate event and more common than we are informed of.

      This child's issues were not simply "anger" that could have been subdued by using a punching bag, or a like activity.

      He quite obvioulsy had some deep-seated emotional and psychological issues that had been growing and festering for some time. He was like a timed-bomb. The separation of this parents could very well have been his breaking point, just waiting for a confrontation with the mother he already resented for the abuse she had imposed upon him. Just another case of little to NO parenting skills, what appears to be lack of education and/or low intelligence level of both the child and the parents. Certainly, in terms of the guns in the home, accessible to a child as well as "loaded"....speaks of extreme irresponsibility on the part of the parents. Like a said...this was unfortunate.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 

      8 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      A punching bag, such as boxers work out on, can allow a child to release their adrenalin anger and still make known their anger and frustrations. Who knows? It might be a lifesaver.


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