Public Safety

6 face charges in investigation into Vinton teen's death

Charges come nearly a year after Emma Redlinger was unintentionally shot

Emma Redlinger. (courtesy Aimee Redlinger)
Emma Redlinger. (courtesy Aimee Redlinger)
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Nearly a year after 14-year-old Emma Redlinger was inadvertently shot while teenagers handled a rifle inside a Vinton bedroom, authorities announced Tuesday they have charged three adults and three teens in connection with their investigation into her death.

Investigators determined the shooting to be unintentional. One of those arrested, William Hines, 17, who they said discharged the gun, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, an aggravated misdemeanor, and interference with official acts and harassment of a public officer or employee, both simple misdemeanors.

He was being held at the Central Iowa Juvenile Detention Facility in Eldora.

Emma, a freshman at Vinton-Shellsburg High School, was shot in the head inside the West Fourth Street home. She died four days later, on Feb. 28, 2015, at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

A statement from Vinton police didn’t provide details of how the incident unfolded. However, federal documents show that Robyn Merchant, 52, purchased and gave to her son, Dillon Winterroth, 16 at the time, a Walther HK MPS 22LR semi-automatic rifle the day before Emma was shot.

Police responded to Merchant’s home at 6:19 p.m. Feb. 24, 2015, after getting a 911 call, the documents show. Police found that Emma had been shot in Winterroth’s upstairs bedroom. Also in the bedroom at the time was Jacob D. Hissong, 17, and Hines, authorities say.

A federal complaint shows that authorities learned at the time that Winterroth had been using marijuana and several “associates” of his acknowledged he used marijuana during 2014 and 2015 before the shooting.

Winterroth tested positive for marijuana the day of the shooting, the federal affidavit shows. During an interview with authorities, he admitted to first smoking marijuana at age 14 and then regularly smoking it by age 15.

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Police said they seized from Winterroth’s bedroom a marijuana smoking pipe, drug paraphernalia, about 7 ounces of marijuana individually packaged and drug packaging materials.

Merchant, his mother, was charged Tuesday in federal court with one count of providing a firearm to a prohibited person. The charge will now go before a grand jury for possible indictment.

During a police interview, Merchant admitted she knew about her son’s marijuana use when she gave him the gun, records show.

Merchant remained in custody pending a detention hearing set for Thursday.

Merchant was the only one charged federally. Others charged in the case, Vinton police said:

l Winterroth, now 17, possession of a controlled substance (marijuana) with intent to deliver and failure to affix drug tax stamp, both felonies; and false reports to law enforcement, possession of drug paraphernalia, interference with officials acts and harassment of public officer or employee, all misdemeanors. He was being held at the Central Iowa Juvenile Detention Facility.

l Hissong, false reports to law enforcement, interference with official acts and harassment of a public officer or employee, all misdemeanors. He was released to a parent.

l Chase Dean Merchant, 21, possession of a controlled substance (marijuana), a serious misdemeanor; and possession of drug paraphernalia, a simple misdemeanor. Police did not detail how investigators believe he was connected to the case.

l Skylar R. Merchant, 33, possession of a controlled substance, marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia, both misdemeanors. Likewise, police did not detail how investigators believe he was connected to the case.

Vinton police said the Redlinger family asked the media to not contact them.

In an article published in The Gazette in May 2015, Aimee Redlinger said her daughter was an organ donor and that she had been notified by the Iowa Donor Network that Emma’s organs has helped six people.

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And the Ahrenstein Family Charitable Fund of Vinton planned to present a college scholarship in Emma’s name.

“The amount of people Emma has touched astounds me,” Aimee Redlinger said at the time. “It definitely helps with the healing process to know your child made such an impact.”

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