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| Crime |

Jennie Bunsom Guilty Plea, Impact on Juvies Charged With Murder

Jennie Bunsom's 2018 booking photo.
Jennie Bunsom's 2018 booking photo.
Denver Police Department
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The March 22 attack on a Boulder King Soopers that killed ten people resulted in many significant news stories getting less attention than they deserved — including the guilty plea entered by Jennie Bunsom, who was tried as an adult for killing her seven-year-old nephew, Jordan Vong, back in 2018, when she was just sixteen.

Bumsom's acceptance of second-degree murder and tampering-with-a-body charges closes out that tragedy — legally, at least. But it also suggests that the recent charging of Kevin Bui and Gavin Seymour, both sixteen, as adults for a case of arson that killed five people in August 2020 may well be replicated in more high-profile cases involving juvenile defendants.

A former Montbello resident, Bunsom turned sixteen on August 5, 2018. At 4:23 p.m. the next day, August 6, according to the case's probable-cause statement, Vong's mother dialed 911 and reported her son missing. She said he'd last been seen in the living room of their residence, on the 4900 block of Fairplay Street, about 45 minutes earlier. Denver police officers responded to the call quickly, and they were followed by members of the department's major crimes missing and exploited persons (MEP) unit, who determined that the "Vong family's statements to detectives were inconsistent."

The PC statement notes that because the crawl space in the residence was cluttered, law enforcement officials requested a search warrant in order to be able to conduct a more thorough search. The warrant was drafted at approximately 7:15 p.m. on August 7 and was subsequently granted by a Denver County Court judge.

The MEP investigators began their search of the residence at 8:11 p.m., and 35 minutes later, at 8:46 p.m., a detective located Vong's body in the basement closet of the bedroom belonging to Bunsom.

According to the statement, the child had "a towel and comforter wrapped around his head, biological matter and blood about his nose, and an unknown imprint on Vong's chest."

Early the next morning, Bunsom was interviewed in the presence of her mother, and she was said to have voluntarily agreed to speak to an MEP detective. The story she told, as recounted in the police report, includes a time discrepancy related to the last time Vong's mother saw him — but it revealed the specifics of the crime.

A photo of the late Jordan Vong shared by the Denver Police Department.
A photo of the late Jordan Vong shared by the Denver Police Department.
Denver Police Department

At about 12:43 p.m. on August 6, Bunsom was in her bedroom, fuming about an argument with her girlfriend, when Vong appeared and asked her to play video games with him. According to the detective's account, Bunsom told him "No" and said he should go back upstairs, but he refused and laid down on her bed.

The teen said she was "upset" by Vong's actions, the statement continues, and when he again rejected her order to get off the bed, she pushed him to the floor, causing him to strike his face and start to cry. "She placed her hand over Jordan's mouth and plugged his nose as Jordan began to struggle for a few minutes," it reads. "Jordan stopped moving. She put him under the bed."

What happened next is blotted out in the report. But after an unspecified length of time, Bunsom is said to have removed Jordan from the spot beneath the bed, wrapped him in a blanket and placed his body in one of two portable closets in her room, where it stayed for more than a day before being discovered.

According to the statement, she informed no one in her family about what she'd done "because she was afraid."

Bunsom's family was officially advised of the decision to try her as an adult on August 14, 2018. The public defenders assigned to her case objected to this designation, and at a court appearance that December, a Denver District Court judge reportedly agreed to push a hearing on the subject back until May 2019 because the attorneys hadn't received Bunsom's mental health records.

No such hearing happened that month, or even that year. But last month, Carolyn Tyler, spokesperson for the Denver DA, told us that Bunsom had "a Preliminary Hearing/Reverse Transfer Hearing scheduled to go for four days starting on 3/22/21-3/26/21" — almost two years after it was initially scheduled. That session resulted in a guilty plea by Bunsom.

Last month, following the naming of Gui and Seymour as suspects in the August arson-murders, Westword published a roundup of juvenile killers tried as adults since the early 1990s. All of the individuals were suspected of committing high-profile crimes, and all but three were male: Bunsom, and Sienna Johnson and Brooke Higgins, who were hit with adult charges for allegedly conceiving of a Columbine-style murder plot at Mountain Vista High School in December 2015, when they were sixteen.

Johnson and Higgins initially fought the adult designation, but they eventually pleaded guilty to counts that straddled the juvenile and adult systems; they were sentenced to stints in Youth Corrections followed by supervised adult parole. As a result, Bunsom — who turned eighteen and legally became an adult last August —will be the first female juvenile suspect on our list to actually serve her time in a prison facility for adults. She's scheduled for sentencing in May.

Click to read Jennie Bunsom's probable-cause statement.

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