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A Michigan boy describes using a slingshot to stop his sister's kidnapping

Owen Burns, center, holds up the slingshot he used to fend off a boy who was attacking his sister earlier this month.
Screenshot by NPR
Owen Burns, center, holds up the slingshot he used to fend off a boy who was attacking his sister earlier this month.

Updated May 17, 2023 at 11:13 AM ET

Owen Burns, a 13-year-old Michigan boy, is being credited with saving his sister's life after he fended off a would-be kidnapper by shooting him with a slingshot.

The Michigan State Police said an 8-year-old girl in Alpena Township in Northern Michigan was hunting for mushrooms in her yard earlier this month when a 17-year-old boy appeared from the woods nearby. The boy covered the girl's mouth and attempted to kidnap her.

Owen Burns told NPR in an interview that he heard his sister scream and looked out the window to see her being attacked.

Burns grabbed his slingshot and went outside. He said he shot his sister's attacker twice — once with a green marble and once with a gravel rock.

"I shot him in the head and chest and she starts running," Burns recounted. "I said, 'It's alright, he can't hurt you now.'"

Margaret Burns, the mother of the two children, said her daughter was still processing what happened but was doing well.

Michigan State Police 1st Lt. John Grimshaw called Burns' actions "extraordinary" and said he likely prevented his sister from being harmed further during the May 10 incident.

"He really is the one that I believe saved his sister's either life or from something seriously bad happening to her," Grimshaw said at a news conference.

Police later found the suspect hiding at a nearby gas station suffering from injuries consistent with being hit by a slingshot.

"What [Burns] did also helped us to identify who the suspect was, because obviously he had injuries from getting hit with a slingshot, and those were things that helped us evidentiary-wise to identify who it was, so that was very valuable too," Grimshaw added.

Authorities charged the 17-year-old with one count of attempted kidnapping/child enticement, one count of attempted assault to do great bodily harm less than murder, and one count of assault and battery.

Owen said he'd heard from some well-wishers, who called him a hero and compared the incident to the underdog story of David versus Goliath.

Owen wasn't always allowed to use the slingshot at home, because he would occasionally break things, but Margaret said she was glad her son picked it up when he did, and called his actions that day "very impressive."

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