ELIZABETHTON — A Happy Valley High School 14-year-old was arraigned in Carter County Juvenile Court on Monday on a second-degree murder charge and aggravated assault. He was then returned to the Juvenile Detention Center in Washington County. Another Happy Valley youth was arraigned on a charge of tampering with evidence and was returned to the custody of his family.
The names of the defendants have not been released by the Juvenile Court. The Johnson City Press has requested the names and other court records under state law that permits the names of juveniles to be released when they have committed a crime such as second-degree murder and the juvenile is 14 or older.
The 14-year-old is accused of fatally stabbing a fellow Happy Valley student, 16-year-old EJ McKinney, and severely injuring another Happy Valley juvenile.
Sheriff Chris Mathes said his deputies responded early Sunday morning to a 911 call from 212 Cash Hollow Road in the Powder Branch section of the county. The call had been made at 3:02 a.m.
Sgt. Kenny Cornett was the first deputy on the scene. He reported that when he arrived he found two boys lying in the yard with others trying to help them. When Cornett approached, he found McKinney had a stab wound to his stomach. He was not breathing and appeared very pale. The second victim had a stab wound to his stomach and a stab wound to his throat. Witnesses said the two other boys in the fight had already left.
Mathes said the incident began with three boys and a girl at the 212 Cash Hollow residence. He said the group apparently invited over the other two boys who would be arrested.
“Apparently, they were to bring alcohol,” Mathes said. When the two boys arrived, Mathes said things began to deteriorate when one of the new arrivals flirted with the girl. Mathes said this started a fight, which was taken outside.
He said the fight was between the three boys who had originally been at the residence on one side and the two new arrivals on the other side. Although it was three against two, Mathes said the third boy attempted to break up the fight but did admit to swinging one punch.
The fight came to an end when the 14-year old stabbed the two boys, Mathes said.
There were two adults at the residence. Betty Fields and Joseph Nickels told Cornett they were awakened by people screaming. They said by the time they got out of bed, some of the juveniles were fighting in the yard.
Witnesses told investigators that the two boys left, walking down Cash Hollow Road and made threats to the other juveniles as they left on foot.
Lt. Mike Little, Lt. Randy Bowers and Investigator Jan Black responded and began investigating the scene while other deputies conducted a manhunt for the two boys.
Mathes said he and Lt. Little received a tip and located the two boys at an apartment on the Milligan Highway around 7:30 a.m.
“They were scratched up as if they had gone through fields and briars,” Mathes said. He said the boys did not appear to have any serious bruising. He said the boys were taken into custody without incident.
Mathes dispelled a couple of rumors that had circulated on Monday. He said there was no evidence of brass knuckles at the scene of the fight. He also said there was no evidence that there had been a robbery.
School officials were quick to offer help and counseling to Happy Valley students on Monday.
Kevin Ward, interim director of the Carter County School System, said it is the second tragic death the student body has suffered in the past few weeks. On Nov. 25, a single-vehicle crash on Smalling Road took the life of 16-year-old Danny Mullins.
Ward said the school principal, Terry Hubbard, brought in extra counselors to meet with students individually and in groups. Hubbard sent flowers to the family in the name of the student body.
During the first period of the day, one of McKinney’s friends used the intercom to read from scripture and led the student body in prayer and a moment of silence.
“We are very sorry for the family of this young man who lost his life,” Ward said. “Right now, our prayers go out to them.”