Community mourns loss of Freeland High School student, victim id - WNEM TV 5

Community mourns loss of Freeland High School student, victim identified

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Authorities are investigating the shooting death of a 16-year-old Freeland student.

Police believe the shooting occurred following a bonfire at the victim's home on N. River Road in Tittabawassee Township. The student, identified as Michael Dennis, was found in the basement of the home about 2 a.m. Sunday, police said. 

"I just can't imagine what the mother is going through on Mother's Day! I just cannot imagine," said Ron Whitman.

On Mother's day, Whitman said most moms were out celebrating and spending time with their kid, but in the quiet community of Freeland he said some mothers and a lot of other people must be heartbroken.

Police said the 10th grader died Sunday morning from a fatal gunshot wound. 

"In a blink. You need to educate your children and tell them each and every day that you love them," Whitman said. 

Whitman said Dennis went to school with his daughter. 

Investigators said alcohol may have played a role in his death.

"We're getting some varying stories. We're trying to actually sort out fact from fiction at this point," Det. Brian Berg said.

Freeland High School student Lauryn Richter said it was hard to get through work Sunday at Pat's Food Center.  She said she knew the victim and described him as funny, well liked and athletic. 

"Pretty much in shock. Wasn't expecting this. It kind of came out of no where. Didn't really know what to do," Richter said. 

Freeland Superintendent Matt Cairy said Dennis was on the track team and played JV football.

Detectives are interviewing fellow students who were at the scene at the time of the death to try and figure out if the shooting was intentional or an accident. Details about the circumstances that led to the shooting weren't immediately released, but police said the gun was registered to the Dennis' residence.

Berg said the homeowner is a registered firearms dealer. He said the combination of an unsecured gun and alcohol proved to be lethal.

"This tragedy would've been averted if alcohol would not have been a factor in it," Berg said. "We don't expect our kids to make sound judgments all the time and then you add alcohol to it then it makes matters even worse. And there was definitely alcohol involved at this incident and it contributed to it."

He said it is unclear if the shooting was self-inflicted, an accident or foul play. It is also unclear if the parents - who were home at the time of the incident - or anyone else at the party will face criminal charges.

"Who bought the alcohol? How was it furnished? Who used it? So that could be one of the factors also weighing in on this," Berg said.

He said an autopsy on Dennis will take place Tuesday. That will tell investigators how close Dennis was to the gun and what angle the bullet hit him.

Meanwhile, Freeland High School and some local churches are working on getting counselors together to help the community grieve.

As for Whitman, he hopes there's never a shooting like this again. 

"Put the guns away. Lock them up," Whitman said. 

Principal at Freeland High School released the following statement: 

"As we grieve one of our own, we ask for your prayers and strength for his family and our school community." 

We'll continue to bring you more information as it comes into the Continuous News Center. 

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