DUNCANNON, Pa. (AP) — The family of a 12-year-old girl accidentally shot by a constable serving eviction papers does not blame the law officer for her death or have "any hard feelings toward him," a member of the girl's extended family said Wednesday.
"I cried for that constable," said Ron Rohde, who is related to the girl's family through marriage.
Donald Meyer, 57, pointed a loaded rifle at Constable Clark Steele on Monday and Steele fired a single shot in return; the bullet traveled through Meyer's arm and struck Ciara Meyer, who was standing behind him, state police said.
"None of us in our family have any hard feelings toward him. Actually we feel sorry for him. He's got to live with this, the poor man, and he had no idea what he was walking into," Rohde said.
Authorities said she was apparently home sick from school at the time. An autopsy found she died of a gunshot wound to the chest, and the death was ruled a homicide.
Rohde said the girl called him Uncle Ron, and that he and his wife were speaking for the family.
"She was such a little angel. Such a positive little girl. She was such a sweetheart," he said.
He said that two different county child protection agencies had been involved with the family and that at one point the girl had been removed from their home for several months. He said he wondered how much the constable knew about the family's troubles when he went to evict them.
"Did anyone let him know that he was going to be walking into a rat's hole?" he said.
Stephanie Cordas, one of the girl's aunts, said the family suspected when they arrived at the crime scene that Meyer had escalated the situation.
"You don't show up at a door and point a gun at someone," she said of the girl's father.
A GoFundMe page was set up to help pay the girl's funeral expenses and to set up a scholarship fund at the girl's school district.
Ciara was an only child, and both of her parents are disabled, Cordas said. She said the girl loved the music of Adele, was sweet, funny and intelligent and had a "sunshine personality."
The bullet that killed her also shattered a bone in Meyer's arm, and he remained hospitalized. He was charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and other counts. A message left for a public defender listed on the complaint against Meyer was not returned Wednesday.
Pennlive.com reported that Meyer had been scheduled to enter a plea Jan. 28 in the neighboring county on year-old charges of driving under the influence and resisting arrest.
Steele is "completely distraught over this incident — this is the worst nightmare any of us as constables can encounter," Bill Stoeffler, a Dauphin County constable and spokesman for the region's constables' association, told Pennlive.com.
A neighbor, Kera Nesslein, said she went outdoors to smoke when she saw the constable go to the front door.
"He was looking at the clipboard he had, and he knocked on the door. I mean, he didn't try to physically go in there. You could see that he was waiting. He didn't just whip out his gun and just shoot it. I mean there was a couple seconds' delay, and then after that shot he ran down the steps and took cover and called the cops," she said.
Steele's visit to the apartment near Duncannon should have been expected by Meyer because the constable had been there "numerous times" about the pending eviction, and had given Meyer a Jan. 11 deadline to move out, authorities said.
Court documents showed Donald and Sherry Meyer owed about $1,780 in back rent and court costs. State police said the family had not appealed the eviction order.
In Pennsylvania, constables are elected officials with limited law enforcement powers. They serve warrants, transport prisoners and perform other duties for Pennsylvania's district courts, the lowest level of the judiciary.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak in Philadelphia contributed to this report.