Joey McVay was 10 years old when he murdered his mother, Deborah McVay

Deborah McVay’s photo
Deborah McVay was murdered by her son, Joey McVay. Pic credit: Holmes County Sheriff’s Department

Joseph McVay, also known as Joey, was 10 years old when he murdered his mother, Deborah McVay, inside their one-story home in Big Prairie, Ohio, which is about midway between Cleveland and Columbus.

On the night of Jan. 2, 2011, Joey went to his neighbor’s house and told her that he had shot his mother. In a 911 call, he could be heard saying, “Come as fast as they can. I shot my mom. I shot her with a gun.”

The neighbor told the dispatcher that she was inside the home and she could see that Deborah was “bleeding from her head.” When asked if the 46-year-old was breathing, she responded, “No, she’s bleeding.”

Deborah was lying face down in the living room area, where shell casings belonging to a .22 caliber rifle were found.

Emergency first responders were planning to render aid when they arrived at the three-bedroom home, located in the 13000 block of Township Road 511, but it was too late.

Deborah, who worked as a home health care provider, was pronounced dead in her home, which used to be a two-car garage before it was converted.

What led up to the murder of Deborah McVay

A police investigation revealed that around 6 p.m., Joey and his mother got into an argument about him doing the laundry. 

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It escalated later that night when they got into another argument about whether or not he should carry firewood into the house.

The defense team stated that Deborah was emotionally abusive toward her son, and his only escape was a tree outside in their yard.

That night, Joey snapped and retrieved the rifle from his bedroom. From the doorway, he aimed the gun at his mother, who was standing 15 feet away, and opened fire.

Deborah was shot once in the head, according to an autopsy performed by the Stark County Coroner’s Office.

Police officials stated that when they arrived at the home, Joey’s then-15-year-old sister and his grandmother were inside.

 They witnessed the shooting.

Joey also had relatives who lived nearby and an older brother named Mike. He told reporters that Deborah “was a very loving lady. If you’d ask my mom for anything, she’d find a way to give it to you.”

When officers searched the home, they found four weapons in Joey’s bedroom. Three were mounted on the wall, while the rifle he used to kill his mother was found on his bed.

The police confiscated all weapons.

Relatives stated that Joey’s grandfather, who was deceased at the time of the shooting, had given him the guns as a Christmas present. There are other reports that state that the guns belonged to Joey’s grandfather.

He gave the guns to Joey’s father, who then gave them to him.

Officers are unsure if he’s ever used any of his guns.

Relatives told the media that Joey would often practice shooting with BB guns, and he seemed to be responsible when shooting.

Holmes County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Nathan Fritz said, “It’s not unusual for boys of that age to hunt and shoot. I think it’s unusual that those weapons were permitted to be in the boy’s bedroom.”

The judge, who referred to Joey as “violent and impulsive,” said it was “irresponsible, unexplainable parenting.”

Deborah’s brother revealed that she didn’t like the fact that he kept weapons in his bedroom—she wanted the guns removed. She and her husband got into several arguments over the matter.

Joseph McVay was charged as a juvenile in mother’s murder

Joey was arrested at the scene and transported to the Richland County Juvenile Justice Center, where he was charged with murder. He wasn’t charged as an adult, and because of that, he would have more than likely been out of custody when he turned 21.

Prosecutors were in favor of him remaining in a youth prison system until he was an adult, as was Joey’s sister.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In September 2011, a Holmes County judge ruled that Joey was not mentally fit to stand trial, but he later determined that he was mentally capable of facing his charges.

Two years later, in June, Joey admitted to fatally shooting his mother at their home. Then he changed his plea to “guilty” in exchange for the murder charge to be dropped.

As part of the plea deal, Joey waived his right to a trial and to challenge any witnesses in the case. He would also be in custody until he was 21 years old.

Holmes County Prosecutor Steve Knowling said, “It’s obviously a very difficult situation because of (Joey’s) age. But it is still a murder case. In cases like this, the whole point is to try to do what is right and what is just for everyone, the community especially, and the victim’s family.”

“The first step is that he has acknowledged his responsibility for his mother’s murder.”

Joey McVay had a history of behavioral problems before murdering his mother

Investigators took a look at Joey’s background as part of the investigation. They discovered that he had a history of behavior problems, and his uncle mentioned that he had anger issues.

One neighbor stated that he knew Joey had behavioral issues from conversations he had with Deborah. But he never thought he would have been capable of shooting and killing his own mother.

Authorities initially announced that Joey’s past did not suggest that he was violent, but in September 2007, he struck his school principal in the face and chest with a dustpan.

Joey was being disruptive in class, so his principal removed him and took him to the gymnasium for a time-out. The incident was reported to the sheriff’s office, but Fritz said he was unsure of the outcome.

The year prior, Deborah called the police and complained about the way Joey’s bus driver had disciplined him.

She claimed that when he was being disruptive on the school bus, the driver pulled over and “grabbed him by the jacket and sat him down.”

The driver didn’t face any criminal charges.

Where is Joey McVay now?

After Joey confessed to killing Deborah, his attorney said it was the best option, as he didn’t need to go through weeks of reliving the incident and looking at photographs and autopsies.

Knowling said, “The issue is what to do with him.” He went on to say that “this case was never about what he did; it was about what we were going to do with him as a 10-year-old.”

“The facts were clear, and I think everyone came to the realization that it was not going to be difficult to prove that he pointed the firearm at his mother, he shot her, and she died,” he added.

In 2013, Holmes County Juvenile Court Judge Thomas Lee stated that if Joey didn’t get into any trouble, he could “remain on probation at the treatment facility,” where he had been for a year.

He also said he “suspended a commitment to the state’s youth prison system until age 21.”

“If he had a caring adult in his life to spend time with, this may not have happened,” said the judge.

As of 2023, there is no information on whether or not Joey was released from custody. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

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