Following more than a year-long investigation, Johnston Police arrested a juvenile last week and charged him with manslaughter in the 2022 shooting death of Dillon Viens.
Viens’ death, first labeled “accidental” by police, has now been ruled a homicide by the State Medical Examiner.
“It was a crime,” Dillon’s father David Viens said following the arrest. “Dillon was a victim.”
Johnston Police Chief Mark A. Vieira announced the charges last week.
“The juvenile was arraigned at Family Court (Thursday) and was charged with Manslaughter, Using a Firearm while Committing a Crime of Violence, two counts of Possession of a Firearm by a Minor, and Possession of Ammunition by a Minor,” according to a press release from Johnston Police.
“This is no longer an accident,” said the victim’s mother, Rhonda Brewster. “This is a homicide.”
The boy facing manslaughter charges visited a car show in Providence with David and Dillon Viens the weekend before the shooting.
David Viens took photographs.
“I hate to even think of it,” he said. “He's in some of my last pics of Dillon … the same kid that killed Dillon.”
Dillon Viens died on Feb. 12, 2022, following the discharge of a firearm at a Cedar Street home in Johnston.
The incident resulted in immediate charges against the adult gun and homeowner Marios Kirios, who police said was not at home at the time of the shooting.
Viens’ parents have been forced to deal with the dual grief of losing a child and struggling to understand the mysterious circumstances in which he died.
“It's just the beginning,” said the victim’s father.
David Viens said he wanted to see “higher charges” filed, but he and Dillon’s mother “understand and are grateful that we will find out, hopefully, what really happened.”
On Friday, Kirios, 30, who now resides on Central Avenue, Johnston, was arrested on a new charge.
“He was charged with Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor as a result of his unsecured firearm being used in this shooting death,” according to Johnston Police. “Kirios will be arraigned at the Kent County Court House on April 28 … On Feb. 16, 2022, also in connection to this case, the Johnston Police Department charged Kirios with 5 misdemeanor counts of unsafe storage of a firearm.”
Immediately after Dillon Viens’ death, Johnston Police released a press release calling the shooting “accidental,” but insisting the investigation was ongoing.
“This incident was ruled a homicide based on the State Medical Examiner’s report corroborated by interviews conducted by Johnston Police Detectives and physical evidence recovered at the scene,” according to Johnston Police, who thanked the Attorney General and State’s Medical Examiner’s offices for their assistance in the “lengthy investigation.”
“I really don’t have much comfort because my son’s not here,” Brewster said Wednesday morning. “Nothing in this world can bring my son back. And I really, at this point, don’t think that anything would comfort me as a mom considering the circumstances.”
The past year has been hard on Dillon Viens’ family. His parents still have “so many” unanswered questions.
Representatives from the Attorney General’s office met with David Viens and Rhonda Brewster before Johnston Police made the arrests. The new charges were revealed and explained.
“Because we are the parents, we had a right to have a discussion on what the charges would be,” Brewster said. “We heard them before they were put out in the public forum, so we weren’t caught off guard … There potentially could be more charges as more information comes to light.”
Contacted the day of the manslaughter arrest, Brian Hodge, a spokesman for Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, declined comment on the case.
“We cannot comment on juvenile matters,” Hodge said via email.
“I’m hoping that some of my questions are answered,” Brewster said. “I have so many. And from what I’ve gathered, and some of my experience working with juveniles, they still have a great level of protection despite the fact they may have committed crimes. Sometimes, and even now in Dillon’s case, a lot of the decisions on how private it actually is, don’t make sense to me.”
Some details of this case may never be released to the public.
Johnston Police refused a public records request for the original incident report and subsequent investigation narratives.
“Per RI General Laws, the reports you are requesting relating to the arrest of a juvenile are not available for public release,” Vieira wrote in response to the request. “This is an open case now pending adjudication in the courts. No additional information is available at this time other than the attached press release disseminated on (April 21).”
Just last week, Dillon Viens’ friends and family visited the Rhode Island State House to deliver testimony on legislation, sponsored by Johnston State Rep. Deb Fellela, which would stiffen penalties for gun owners who did not properly store their weapons.
“Currently the safe storage act, if not complied with, is a misdemeanor,” Fellela said last week. “The legislation I sponsored makes it a felony where unsafe storage leads to access of the firearm by a child or adult and causes death or serious physical injury. Especially in this situation where someone wasn't even at home, and he left his weapons out. There were a number of these bills introduced last (week); this one is the only one having it become a felony. As in my research, there are other states that have this as a felony.”
Fellela referenced laws in California, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Second Amendment Rights proponents testified against the legislation, arguing that guns should be within easy reach and unimpeded access, should they be needed for self-defense.
Fellela said the proposed legislation — named “Dillon’s Law” — was directly inspired by Dillon Viens’ death.
“I do remember when that terrible tragedy occurred, I had gone to the service and spoke to the dad, David Viens, who has advocated for his son during this past year,” Fellela recalled. “Such a young life taken, and it always hits home when you see that especially someone from your town. David wanted to make it a felony, so I introduced the legislation. I did explain to the parents how sometimes it doesn't pass in the first year of putting the bill forward and some compromises might need to be made.”
Even if the law evolves prior to passage, Fellela has pledged her support.
“I plan to keep advocating for the bill, and we'll see what happens,” she said.
State Rep. Justine A. Caldwell and State Sen. Pamela J. Lauria have also sponsored legislation requiring safe storage of all firearms in Rhode Island.
“It is not asking too much to expect those who own lethal weapons to secure them to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands,” Caldwell said in February. “Just as our state requires drivers to have insurance because we recognize the potential that vehicles have to inflict harm on others, in the interest of public safety, we should require that gun owners take responsibility for securing their weapons.”
That legislation (2022-H 5434, 2023-S 0321) would require “all firearms, when not in use by the owner or another authorized user, be stored in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device properly engaged in order to render the firearm inoperable.”
“I would support Representative Caldwell's bill (H5434) also for safe storage, which gives more … civil penalties … even though it's not named after Dillon,” Fellela said. “That's what the parents really wanted.”
Via press release, the Johnston Police Department offered its “deepest condolences to Dillon’s family and friends.”
“The death of a child is a parent’s ultimate tragedy,” police wrote. “Although the filing of these criminal charges won’t bring Dillon back, hopefully it brings a sense of justice to the family. This tragedy underscores the importance for owners of firearms to properly secure them to prevent shooting deaths such as these involving juveniles.”
Dillon Viens’ parents have pledged to advocate for all the pending legislation.
“In regards to the bill, the seriousness of stricter gun control and safety when it pertains to adolescents having access, adults need to be held accountable due to their poor judgement,” Brewster said. “As I continue to gain some strength day-in and day-out, I plan to be active in seeking justice.”
In the case of her Dillon Viens’ shooting, “guns weren’t locked up, and something did happen, and my son lost his life.”
She replied to the argument against stricter gun storage laws.
“I get it,” Brewster said. “Everybody wants to protect themselves, but they don’t think of the other side of it … the children who may know where these guns are hidden. That’s just ignorance to how severe a situation can become. In Dillon’s case, the guns were readily accessible to the child and there was extreme negligence.”
Brewster hopes that stricter penalties will convince gun owners to protect their firearms from minors.
“It’s a constant struggle for my family to find peace,” Brewster said. “Unless you’re standing in my shoes; unless you’re standing in my ex-husband’s shoes; you have no right … This world lacks compassion and empathy for people who have lost children. How many more of our children need to die before there’s stricter gun control?”
Brewster said she’s been patient, but the process has been painful.
“It’s disheartening that it took a little over a year, but I’m glad we didn’t have to wait longer than that,” she said. “As a mother, having my son’s room bare, I go in there from time to time to just feel his presence. It’s hurtful ... It will always be hurtful. Not hearing that bedroom door open up. Not hearing him call me from his room. It will forever remain hurtful.”
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