Beaufort News

Shot Bluffton teen might have been recruited by gang, sheriff says

A 13-year-old boy shot to death early Sunday at a home in Bluffton's Grande Oaks neighborhood might have been recruited into a gang by the teen who allegedly shot him, according to Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner.

David Barriantos Bruno, 17, was charged Sunday with felony involuntary manslaughter in the death of Joshua Lee, 13, of Bluffton. Bruno was carelessly handling a gun in his bedroom when the weapon fired, striking Lee in the torso at about 7 a.m., according to a Sheriff's Office news release Monday.

Authorities say Bruno's father discovered Lee in his son's bedroom, where he apparently had been left by Bruno and a third teen who suffered a superficial wound, possibly from the bullet that killed Lee.

Investigators believe that Bruno, Lee and the third teen -- a 16-year-old Bluffton boy who deputies would not identify because he is a minor -- might have been involved in gang activity together, committing crimes such as vehicle break-ins, Tanner said Monday. They had been drinking Grey Goose vodka and smoking marijuana in the hours before Lee's death, Tanner said. A Sheriff's Office news release said Bruno also played with a 9 mm handgun, often pointing it at the others.

"They are definitely 'wanna-be' gangsters, and we are investigating any possible gang involvement," he said. "He's (Lee) very young. It is obvious that he had been recruited. If they want to claim to be in a gang, they will be treated like one."

Tanner said the investigation into the shooting and possible gang activity continues.

Lee's sister, Grecia Munoz, 22, said her brother was a "loyal friend" who had been "pulled down the wrong path" by older teens.

"He was always surrounded by friends and so easy to get along with," she said. "He did not deserve to be left there on that bedroom floor."

On Monday, additional charges of pointing and presenting a firearm and unlawful possession of a firearm by persons under 18 also were filed against Bruno, according to the release.

On Sunday, deputies arrived at the home to find Lee's body in Bruno's bedroom, the release said.

Preliminary results from an autopsy performed Monday at the Medical University of South Carolina indicate the teen died from a single gunshot wound to the chest, Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen said.

The 16-year-old, who also was at the home when the incident occurred, sustained a superficial gunshot wound near his chin, Tanner said. After the shooting, investigators found the 16-year-old at his home, where he was treated by EMS personnel and released to his parents.

Lee and the 16-year-old had been with Bruno in Bruno's bedroom through the night, the Sheriff's Office says. Not long after sunrise, a shot was fired that first struck the 16-year-old under the chin, then hit Lee.

Bruno and the 16-year-old then fled the house, leaving Lee on the bedroom floor, according to the release.

Bruno's father was awakened by the shot and found the body. His daughter called 911, the release said.

Deputies and members of the Immigration Enforcement Team found a pistol in Bruno's bedroom closet that is believed to have fired the fatal shot. Soon after, Bruno returned home, where he was questioned by investigators. Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh said investigators still are trying to determine where the gun came from.

Attempts Monday to reach Bruno's family for comment were unsuccessful.

Bruno's bond was set at $100,000 Monday, according to the Beaufort County Detention Center log.

If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Bruno faces up to five years in prison, according to South Carolina law.

Lee was a rising eighth-grader at Bluffton Middle School, according to Carol McMillan, community services coordinator for the county school district. McMillan said that students can call the district if they need counseling.

Lee, who lived with his parents, Ray and Betty Lee, and his 7-year-old brother in Bluffton's Brighton Oaks neighborhood, liked cars and bowling, listening to music, and fishing with his dad and brother on the May River, Lee's father said.

Lee had been active at Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witness in Bluffton, Ray Lee said, and he was excited to start eighth grade in the fall. He said he didn't know of any involvement in gang activity.

"Our faith is really what's sustaining us right now," Ray Lee said. "If I could just have that day back, I'd do it differently."

A visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Sauls Funeral Home at 90 Simmonsville Road in Bluffton. For information, call 843-815-5535.

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