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Westmoreland

Mt. Pleasant teen headed to Ebensburg juvenile program for fatally shooting friend

Rich Cholodofsky
| Friday, March 10, 2017, 11:15 a.m.
John Burnsworth, 14, of Mt. Pleasant, sits in the back of a police cruiser before being escorted away from the Norvelt office of District Judge Roger Eckels on March 30, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
John Burnsworth, 14, of Mt. Pleasant, sits in the back of a police cruiser before being escorted away from the Norvelt office of District Judge Roger Eckels on March 30, 2016.
Fatal shooting victim James Robert Gustafson, who is also known as J.R., of Mt. Pleasant.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
Fatal shooting victim James Robert Gustafson, who is also known as J.R., of Mt. Pleasant.

A Mt. Pleasant teen will spend at least three months in a Cambria County youth treatment program for the shooting death of his 13-year-old friend last year.

Westmoreland County Judge Michele Bononi on Friday ordered John Burnsworth, now 15, transferred to the Appalachian Youth Services program in Ebensburg, where he will receive mental health and other counseling services.

Burnsworth in December was adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court of involuntary manslaughter for the March 2016 shooting of James Robert “J.R.” Gustafson. “We are going to make sure J.R. is not forgotten, and next time I see you we can work on that. He needs to be honored so we don't forget,” Bononi said.

Police said Burnsworth shot Gustafson once in the head. Burnsworth said he was asked by 18-year-old babysitter, Brooke Nelson, to help get Gustafson to leave a Mt. Pleasant apartment where she was watching three young children.

Westmoreland county juvenile probation officer Melissa Dinsmore said Burnsworth said Nelson gave him a gun and told him to scare away Gustafson. Burnsworth believed the gun was unloaded when he pointed it at Gustafson, ordered him to raise his hands and pulled the trigger, she testified.

Burnsworth has been held at the county's juvenile detention center since his arrest. He will spend an indefinite period of time in the youth treatment program but will return to court in three months, the judge said.

Burnsworth, who previously had been in and out of foster care due to allegations of parental neglect, can remain in court custody until his 21st birthday.

More than a dozen of Gustafson's family and friends attended Friday's hearing. Many told the judge about the impact of the teen's death. Leah Gustafson openly sobbed as she told Bononi of her sadness and the struggles she, her husband and their children have had since the shooting.

“He wanted to be a fireman, and we were treasuring that day until that day was taken away,” she said.

Criminal charges of child and reckless endangerment are still pending against Nelson and Joshua Hudec, 31, who police said rented the apartment where the shooting occurred.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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