A 6-year-old boy shot in the head by his 4-year-old playmate died of his wounds as investigators in a New Jersey town tried to determine how the younger boy got hold of a loaded .22-caliber rifle and whether charges would be filed.
Under New Jersey law, gun owners are required to keep loaded weapons out of the hands of minors, but the 4-year-old living on a cul de sac in Toms River, N.J., was able to wander into his house Monday evening as his parents were outside. He came back out with the loaded weapon, a shot went off, and a bullet entered the head of 6-year-old Brandon Holt, who was sitting in a go-kart outside.
Brandon died Tuesday evening in a hospital, police said, as neighbors in the quiet community 70 miles south of New York City described how a warm Monday evening had turned chaotic. According to their accounts, and those of Police Chief Michael Mastronardy, parents of both the boys, who live along the same street in Toms River, were outside with the children as they played.
It is unclear whether the younger boy intentionally pulled the trigger or the gun went off accidentally. Mastronardy said the 4-year-old was about 45 feet away from Brandon when the shot rang out.
The mother of the 4-year-old dialed 911. Debi Coto, a neighbor, said a woman began running down the street trying to flag down the approaching ambulance. At first, she said, neighbors thought one of the boys, who had been playing outside all afternoon, had fallen.
But as police arrived and rushed with emergency medical workers into the backyard of a home, it became clear something else had happened.
Hours later, neighbors were questioning why a loaded gun had apparently been left unattended inside a home where a young child lived.
"After the little kids got shot up in Connecticut, you would think parents would be more vigilante when they have guns in the house," said Claude Taylor, a neighbor, as he pulled his own child down the sidewalk in a red wagon. Taylor was referring to the Dec. 14 mass shooting of 20 first-graders and six school employees in Newtown, Conn., by 20-year-old Adam Lanza.
The shootings there prompted President Obama to push Congress to pass new gun laws, something the National Rifle Assn. and its advocates say would be unfair to law-abiding gun owners.
Brandon's death was the second in three days to result from a child getting hold of a loaded weapon. In Tennessee on Saturday, another 4-year-old picked up a loaded weapon during a family cookout, firing off a shot that killed a 48-year-old woman. About 600 Americans die in accidental shootings every year, according to National Center for Injury Prevention and Control statistics.