Owen Burns assumed his little sister was goofing off with her friends in the backyard when he heard her screaming, something he found annoying. But when the 13-year-old looked out his bedroom window moments later, he saw a stranger holding a hand over his 8-year-old sister's mouth as he tried to drag her into the nearby woods.
Owen turned to his bed and grabbed his slingshot and any ad hoc ammunition he could find: a marble and a rock, as it turned out. From his bedroom, he loaded the marble first, pulled back the slingshot's yellow, plastic tubing, aimed out his open window at the stranger some 200 feet away and let go.
The shot hit him - right between the eyes. Then Owen loaded the rock and fired again - another hit, this time to the chest.
"He was swearing. He was cussing," Owen told The Washington Post.
It was the start of a bizarre encounter on May 10 outside Owen's house in Alpena Township, Mich., where attempted kidnappings "don't really happen," according to Maggie Burns, the children's mother. By day's end, Owen's sister would be safe, if traumatized, Owen would be hailed a hero with impressive aim and a 17-year-old local would be behind bars, accused of trying to abduct an 8-year-old from her backyard.
Michigan State Police did not identify the 17-year-old in its news release but said he's being charged as an adult. Law enforcement praised Owen for neutralizing a scary situation that could have turned into a tragedy.
"He really is the one that ... I believe saved his sister's either life or from something seriously bad happening to her," Lt. John Grimshaw said at a news conference, calling Owen's actions "extraordinary."
"He should be commended for it," he added.
Owen's slingshot is nothing fancy. His mother bought it for him on clearance for $3 a couple years ago, he told The Post. Since then, he's gone out in the backyard from time to time to do some target practice using old orange juice cans.
He wasn't using it on the afternoon of May 10, at least not at first. Instead, he was just settling in to "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" on his PlayStation 3 after getting home from school. His sister was hunting for mushrooms in the backyard, which backs up into some woods. They were alone, having arrived home before their parents, which was unusual.
That's when the 17-year-old emerged from the woods and tried to snatch Owen's 8-year-old sister, who screamed and struggled, state police said in a news release. When Owen first saw what was happening, he said, a thought flashed through his mind: If this stranger kidnapped his sister, he might turn her into a sex slave or kill her.
As Grimshaw later recounted, the suspect "came from behind her, grabbed her like you see in the movies - hand over the mouth, arm around the waist - and was attempting to pull her into the woods."
That's when Owen reached for the slingshot and hit him twice. Having freed herself, his sister came inside, crying, telling her brother she had almost been killed. Owen roared out of the house, yelling and cursing while the guy started to take off. As the stranger kept running, Owen grabbed a baseball and hurled it at him, missing just over his shoulder. Then, Owen returned to his trusty slingshot, stretching the sling back as he prepared to fire a third shot. But the plastic band broke, causing Owen to smack himself in the face with his hand.
The stranger got away - but not with his sister.
The siblings called their mother, who had stopped to help a family member on the way home from work. Her children were hysterical and incoherent, but she could make out the word "kidnapped." Racing home, she called the police.
"I was in shock for a few days," Maggie said.
Troopers said they found the 17-year-old suspect hiding at a nearby gas station. He was charged with attempted kidnapping, attempted felony assault, and misdemeanor assault and battery in Alpena County District Court.
"He had obvious signs of an injury consistent with those that would have been sustained from the slingshot strikes to his head and chest," police said in a news release.
Maggie said that, at first, she didn't believe her son had sniped a stranger from some 200 feet away. She thought he was talking big. Then, police informed her of the 17-year-old's telltale injuries. They said that, as investigators interviewed the suspect, the marble-induced goose egg on his head kept growing.
"You said I always lie!" Owen told his mother.
"I just couldn't believe it," she responded. "It just didn't sound real, until there was proof. It sounds like something you would see in the movies."
"Mom," Owen said, "stuff in the movies can and do happen in real life."