Retired firefighter could face life sentence for allegedly firing shotgun at teenager asking for directions

Jeff Ziegler, 53, was booked on a weapons charge and assault to commit murder.PlayWXYZ
WATCH Ret. firefighter allegedly fires shotgun at lost teenager asking for directions

A lost Michigan teen who had missed his morning school bus and asked a retired firefighter’s wife for directions was sent running for his life after the husband allegedly fired a shotgun toward the student, law enforcement officials said.

It was minutes after 8 a.m. Thursday when 14-year-old Brennan Walker, already tardy for the day at Rochester High School, tried walking instead.

As he ventured through an unfamiliar neighborhood in a subdivision along South Christian Hills Drive in Rochester Hills, authorities said, he knocked on at least one other resident's front door seeking directions.

The first attempt failed, so Walker tried Jeff Ziegler's home, where the teen encountered Ziegler's wife.

"I knocked on her door a few times and she came down yelling at me before I could say anything and she thought I was trying to break into her house," Brennan Walker told ABC Detroit affiliate WXYZ-TV. "I was trying to explain to her that I wanted to get directions to go to my school. I told her, ‘No, I go to Rochester High; I’m just looking for directions to Rochester High.’"

A 911 call summoned Oakland County Sheriff's Office deputies to South Christian Drive in what was described as an attempted break-in.

"The caller reported that a black male was trying to break into her house and her husband chased him into the yard," according to the sheriff's incident report.

Soon after the woman failed to give the freshman directions, Jeff Ziegler appeared and then allegedly responded with a shotgun blast.

"I saw it,” the teen said of Ziegler’s shotgun. “I saw him holding it like this through the window and I guess I put my hand up. I don’t really remember. And I started to run. I looked back behind me; I saw him aiming at me and I turned back. I turned back and I heard the gunshot. And I tried to run faster."

Walker was not hit.

His mother believes Ziegler, who is white, and his wife were scared of her son simply because he is black, she told WXYZ.

"Hearing the wife say, 'Why did these people choose my house?' I knew it was racially motivated," she told the station. "I don't know what 'these people' she could have been talking about. He was by himself."

The deputies who arrived at the said there was a man "with a 12-gauge shotgun" who "fired a round toward the fleeing male," according to their report.

Ziegler was then taken into custody and booked on a weapons charge and assault to commit attempted murder, a felony that could, if he’s convicted, result in a life sentence, Oakland County officials said.

Deputies were still searching the wooded area for any fired bullet, a law enforcement official said.

The Zieglers did not immediately respond to ABC News’ multiple phone calls seeking comment.

Ziegler, who said in court today that he is a retiree of the Detroit Fire Department and is on disability for a 2014 job-related injury, appeared in a black jumpsuit and answered every question to the judge with "Yes, ma’am" during his bail hearing. The fire department referred ABC News to the city Law Department, which did not immediately respond.

Ziegler believes his version of the facts hasn't been heard, Ziegler said in court, adding that has an attorney whom he didn’t name.

"There's a lot more to the story than what's being told," he said. “I believe that will all come out in court."

Before the judge interrupted him, Ziegler started to summarize what happened.

He was asleep in bed "when my wife started screaming and crying," Ziegler said before Oakland County Court Judge Julia Nicholson cut him off.

He pleaded for the judge to grant his release to be with his family.

"I'd really like to be able to stay in my home and keep my family together," he said to the judge. "I'm asking. I'm begging, please I promise to not have contact with whoever the gentleman -- the 14-year-old."

Nicholson listened to Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Collins describe the 53-year-old as a "danger to the community" and that the rationale to draw his shotgun was unprovoked because security footage from the home shows that Walker merely knocked on the door.

She cited a 2005 weapons offense in the city of Dearborn, Michigan, where Ziegler was convicted of aiming a firearm without malice.

Collins prodded the judge to ensure that Walker wouldn't have any interaction with Ziegler.

"I don't want him being put in the position of having to run into the man who tried to kill him even by happenstance," the prosecutor said during the court hearing in Rochester Hills.

Nicholson set a $50,000 bail that required Ziegler to wear a GPS ankle bracelet, move at least 10 miles away from the neighborhood, forfeit his passport and relinquish all weapons to the Oakland County Sheriff's Office.

He was released that same day after posting bail, Oakland County Sheriff's Office confirmed.

Ziegler did not enter a plea and is expected to return to court April 24.

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