Police in suburban Detroit are piecing together answers to why a 74-year-old woman shot and killed her 17-year-old grandson last Friday, just weeks before his high school graduation.
Sandra Layne, a retired schoolteacher and mother of five, is being held without bond, charged with murder in the shooting death of Jonathan Hoffman, who was living with her to finish out the school year after his parents had moved to Arizona.
According to police reports, a terrified Hoffman called 911 to report that Layne had shot him in the chest. Officers rushing to the West Bloomfield, Mich., condominium heard several more gunshots as they approached. When they got there, Layne came to the door with a semiautomatic pistol in her hand and told them that she’d just shot her grandson. He died soon after at a nearby hospital.
Friends and relatives say they don’t understand what prompted the violence between a grandmother and grandson in a home where they say there was no trouble. Hoffman’s aunt said neither of his parents thought something might be wrong. “We obviously don’t know what [prompted] this woman, who purchased the gun 30 days ahead of time — a shoot-to-kill weapon. Obviously, the issue lies with her mental facilities,” Judy Metzger told the Detroit Free Press.
Prosecutors have not yet determined whether Layne is competent to stand trial.
Although the shooting seems inexplicable, some clues may have been revealed. Police were called to Layne’s home in March for an argument between the two that didn’t require further intervention. Court documents show Hoffman was arrested for marijuana possession in March as well; he had turned himself in because he had also taken hallucinogenic mushrooms and needed help. Hoffman was placed in a treatment program and a judge said his record would be expunged if he stayed away from drugs, his former attorney Loren Dickstein told WDIV-TV.
But after the shooting, police searching the home found evidence of marijuana and other paraphernalia in Hoffman’s bedroom. Layne’s lawyers say that she has no criminal record, worked as a schoolteacher in California before moving to Michigan 30 years ago and has been married for 28 years. “She’s never been in trouble before,” Ribitwer told the Free Press. “[She's] very distraught, very upset. It’s a very difficult time.”
Layne is scheduled to appear before an Oakland County judge on Thursday for a preliminary hearing. She faces life in prison if convicted.