At first, the high school football players thought the woman waving the gun was joking. Then she started yelling and cursing, and she forced them to the ground.
The four boys, ages 15 and 16, had spent that Aug. 7 morning in their town of Wynne, Ark., going door-to-door to sell discount cards for their annual high school football team fundraiser, which took them to the home of a 46-year-old stranger named Jerri Kelly.
But before the teens even knocked on her door, Kelly emerged with a chrome-plated revolver, according to a police report.
She used an expletive as she told them to lie down, spread their legs and place their arms behind their backs, the boys later told police. When they tried to explain they were fundraising for school — not stealing — she called them liars, according to police records. When one boy tried to swat at a mosquito, the records indicate, Kelly threatened that if he didn’t stop moving she would shoot.
“We were scared,” one of the teens told police. “I thought she was going to shoot me in the head, how she was acting.”
Kelly has been charged with four counts each of aggravated assault and false imprisonment, both felonies, and four counts of endangering the welfare of a minor, which is a misdemeanor. The woman, who used to work in law enforcement and whose husband is the Cross County Jail administrator, was arrested, booked and bonded out on Aug. 12 without ever getting her mug shot taken, which has drawn criticism from locals that she received preferential treatment. Days later, she returned and had her mug shot taken.
At Wynne High School, where the teens are students, administrators are reevaluating how to handle student fundraising efforts moving forward, Wynne Public Schools Superintendent Carl Easley said in an interview.
In the Wynne neighborhood, where the gun scare took place, some residents remain unsettled.
“They’re just kids,” Bill Winkler, who has lived in the area for 40 years, told WMC Action News 5. “You worry about your neighborhood, and you wonder: Who is this person?”
Wynne police officers interviewed a half-dozen witnesses, all who said the teens had done nothing to provoke Kelly, according to her arrest affidavit.
In four separate statements, the boys — who authorities did not name because they are minors — offered similar versions of how that morning began.
They left football practice, two of them dressed in their jerseys and two in street clothes, to set out selling cards, the boys said. They walked to get water, then started knocking on doors, where they took turns delivering their pitch and hanging back by the street.
When the teens approached Kelly’s house, they did not know that she had already reported them as “suspicious persons” to police. Kelly told police in a statement that she heard “yelling and screaming” and dogs barking outside her residence, then watched as the four walked down the middle of the street and toward her neighbor’s house.
“All males were African American and I know this residence to [be] white,” Kelly said in her statement.
The woman told police she saw them “horseplaying” in the driveway, “aggravating the dog that lived there” and walking around the carport area. When they turned toward her house, Kelly said she feared for her safety, so she grabbed her gun and called her husband to send over police.
By the time officers arrived about eight minutes later, according to the police report, Kelly already had the teens on the ground at gunpoint. She asked if they knew whose house they were at, demanded they show her their IDs and told them to keep their heads down, the boys later told authorities.
Once the officers arrived, Kelly walked to her carport and put her gun on the back of her vehicle, authorities said.
According to the police report, one of the responding officers immediately recognized the teens as students from Wynne High School, where he is the resource officer. He told them they could get up and stand by the patrol car. But when they began to walk away, Kelly called them back, according to the report.
The woman proceeded to lecture them, saying that though it might appear her actions were racially motivated, “it ain’t about that,” according to the arrest report. She told the boys they were acting “suspicious” and did not look like salesmen.
An hour later, Kelly asked for the boys’ contact information so she could buy them lunch to “put some closure on this,” according to the arrest report. In the statement she gave police, Kelly said she “felt remorse” after she learned the four were teenagers simply trying to fundraise for school but reiterated “they were not acting as such at the initial encounter.”
The school was notified immediately, and administrators then called the teenagers’ parents to explain what had happened.
“Of course the parents were upset,” Easley said. “Anybody would be if that happened to their child.”
The students at Wynne High School are about 70 percent white and 28 percent black, Easley said. Before this incident, the school has never had issues with students selling the discount cards in their community.
The grandmother of one of the 16-year-old boys, who did not want to be identified, told News Channel 3 that her grandson was traumatized from the encounter with Kelly.
“He said, ‘Grandma,’ ” the woman told the TV station, “ ‘Every time I close my eyes, I see that gun.’ ”