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A Georgia father is accused of shooting at a 17-year-old boy this week after finding his daughter, whose cell phone he was tracking, with the kid.
Dustin Vandegrift, 36, allegedly opened fire on a teenage boy he found with his daughter outside a community church on Wednesday — prompting the lockdown of two nearby schools one day after a mass school shooting in Texas put the nation on high alert.
Deputies were dispatched to Central Alliance Church in Mount Airy, Georgia, about 80 miles north of Atlanta, shortly after 10:00 a.m. on May 25 for reports of gunfire and a possible fight between a young male and female, the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release.
Upon arrival, law enforcement intercepted Vandegrift, who was allegedly attempting to flee the location in a white 2011 Chevrolet Camaro. He was taken into custody.
Under questioning, the Georgia dad allegedly told detectives he’d “tracked” his teen daughter’s mobile phone to the rear of the church and went there “to check on her.” When he discovered his daughter with the 17-year-old boy, he allegedly “battered” the teen before pulling out a .45 caliber pistol and opening fire on him from approximately nine feet away.
“He stood back and looked at him for a second, drew a [M]1911 pistol out of his carry bag — and that’s a 40 caliber round, very big,” Kevin Angell, a public information officer for the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office, told Oxygen.com on Friday morning. "[He] pulls the gun out, points it at the male juvenile and pulls the trigger."
The teen wasn’t struck directly by the bullet, but was wounded by large several wood splinters that lodged in his back after the round Vandegrift allegedly fired struck a fence, causing a “high pressure ricochet,” officials said.
“It splintered from being shot so close with such a big round, and that’s basically caused the injuries to his back and so many of them,” Angell explained. “When our school resource officers initially came in contact with him, they saw the bleeding and cut his shirt off and, to them, it looked like he had been shot several times in the back, that’s how much ricochet came off of that fencing.”
The 17-year-old victim was rushed to hospital in stable condition and has since been released.
Vandegrift’s teenage daughter also accused him of physically striking her during the altercation.
Investigators towed Vandegrift’s car and searched it, seizing the .45 caliber pistol that was allegedly fired during the incident, officials said.
Vandegrift has been charged with aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, simple battery involving family violence, two counts of first-degree cruelty to children, two counts of third-degree cruelty to children and two counts of recklessly causing harm or endangering safety. His daughter is also now in the custody of protective services, authorities said.
Had the bullet Vandegrift allegedly fired struck the 17-year-old, the father likely would've have faced additional attempted murder charges, investigators said.
“We don’t know if he missed on purpose, if this was a warning or if he just had bad aim, but they were probably only about three yards away from each other,” Angell added. “Just the mere fact that he fired the gun at him with some intent is where those serious charges come from.”
Authorities decried Vandegrift’s actions as an isolated instance of parental “vigilantism.”
“The faster method of determining her location and dealing with that situation would have been to call us,” Angell said.
The shooting — which unfolded less than 24 hours after a gunman stormed Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two adults — prompted brief lockdowns of nearby Habersham Central High School and Ninth Grade Academy in Mount Airy.
“It never crossed his mind what he was doing and in the proximity to a school,” Angell added. “And in light of the events that occurred in Uvalde, Texas, it caused a lot of fear and a lot of concern across our community and across the Atlanta region. It was unnecessary.”
Classes resumed at both schools on Wednesday after Vandegrift was taken into police custody, officials said.
“We were not only concerned about the physical safety of our students but also their mental well-being,” Matthew Cooper, the superintendent at Habersham County Schools told Oxygen.com. “In light of the evil that took place in Texas, we wanted to keep things as normal as possible for our students. We did not want to create fear, panic or mental trauma for our students. Some parents chose to come get their children from school, which we certainly respect."
Authorities referred to apps like the one Vandegrift allegedly used to track his daughter as a “double-edged sword.”
“As a parent, I use it to monitor my son’s driving more than his location,” Angell said. “I certainly didn’t ever use it to show up at a location where he was. If I was concerned, I would have called him or I would have involved law enforcement…his actions were overboard.”
Vandegrift is being held without bond at a Habersham County detention facility, according to online jail records obtained by Oxygen.com. No court date information was immediately available for him.
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