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Hunter High shooting victim family speaks out after court ruling

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WEST VALLEY CITY — The family of one of the victims in the Hunter High shooting is speaking out after a judge sentenced the teen who killed their son and another student to juvenile detention on lesser charges.

The Jan. 13 shooting around the corner from the high school killed 14-year-old Tivani Lopati and 15-year-old Paul Tahi and left 15-year-old Ephraim Asiata with life-altering injuries.

Tivani's family said Wednesday they were in "disbelief" while hearing the ruling in court Monday and felt disappointed and saddened.

The now-15-year-old suspect admitted to two charges of manslaughter and one charge of discharge of a firearm, instead of the original murder charges he faced.

All other charges were dismissed.

Prosecutors decided not to push for moving the case to adult court, and the teen didn't argue self-defense as his attorneys said he would.

The teen is expected to be released from juvenile detention when he's 21 and will not have an adult record.

"The last 72 hours have been excruciating for our family. On Monday, we listened in disbelief as our son's shooter admitted to reduced charges and was sentenced to juvenile detention," said Jake Fitisemanu Jr. Wednesday evening, reading the Lopati family's statement.

He relayed the pain and heartbreak that the family put into words on paper.

"While we would not want any other family to go through the loss of a child, we are greatly disappointed with the leniency of the sentence, which is not proportional to the gravity of the crime that was committed," he said. "While the court may have ruled that this case is closed, this miscarriage of justice has not provided us with any closure."

The family said they miss Tivani and cry every day, but their pain and heartbreak aren't visible.

"We feel let down by a system that has not carried out justice," he said. "We feel mistreated by court staff who made us feel as if our grieving family was an unwelcome threat within the courtroom."

The Lopati family said they can't help but feel the legal proceedings would have been conducted differently, and that, "the outcome of this case would have been different if Tivani, Paula and Ephraim had been white, or upper class, or lived in a neighborhood on the other side of the valley."

Mixed with words of frustration, the family expressed a desire for change.

We will never stop fighting for justice, for our son, for Paula, Ephraim and on behalf of all families who live with the unimaginable trauma of having their child's life taken without justice being served

–Jake Fitisemanu Jr.

"While we are deeply saddened and disappointed with the systems that failed to deliver justice for our son, we continue to advocate for action and investment to proactively address issues with a focus on prevention, rather than reacting to violence when it's too late," Fitisemanu Jr. said.

They also expressed a promise, that even if the court case is over — their battle, isn't.

"We will never stop fighting for justice, for our son, for Paula, Ephraim and on behalf of all families who live with the unimaginable trauma of having their child's life taken without justice being served."

After the Lopati family released their formal statement Wednesday, Utah State Courts addressed the family's statements about mistreatment by court staff:

"We take all cases seriously, especially cases of this magnitude. Our judges and staff strive to treat everyone in our courtrooms with dignity and respect and we are concerned to hear that the Lopati family felt mistreated. We are always open to feedback and will reach out to learn more about their experience."

A vigil is planned for Paula, Tivani and Ephraim in front of the Salt Lake County District Attorney's office on Thursday at 3 p.m. Organizers said they plan to demand justice for the victims, and accountability from both the education and court system.

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Lauren Steinbrecher
Lauren Steinbrecher is an Emmy award-winning reporter and multimedia journalist who joined KSL in December 2021.


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