Firing range instructor dies after 9-year-old girl shoots him with Uzi

An instructor at a shooting range in Arizona died Monday after a 9-year-old girl accidentally shot him in the head with an Uzi he was showing her how to use, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office said.

Charles Vacca, 39, of Lake Havasu City was shot Monday morning, airlifted to a medical center in Las Vegas and pronounced dead shortly before 9 p.m., the sheriff’s office said.

Vacca was working at the Bullets and Burgers outdoor range in White Hills, about 60 miles southeast of Las Vegas, when the accident occurred. The girl and her parents were at the range while on vacation, a sheriff’s spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times.

He was standing next to the girl, instructing her how to use the Uzi, when she pulled the gun’s trigger and the recoil sent the weapon over her head, causing him to be shot, the sheriff’s office said.

“This is a rarity for something like this to happen,” the spokeswoman said.


Asked why a 9-year-old had access to an Uzi, range operator Sam Scarmardo told local television station KTNV that Bullets and Burgers allows children 8 and older to shoot firearms. “We instruct kids as young as 5 in .22 rifles,” he said. “They’re under the supervision of their parents and of our professional range masters.”

People who answered the phone at the range refused to speak to the Los Angeles Times about the matter, and Scarmardo did not return The Times’ calls Tuesday or Wednesday.

David Prince, who owns Eagle Gun Range in Lewisville, Texas, also allows kids as young as 8 to shoot at his range, which even offers a children’s party package. He told The Times that he was motivated to start his business because he wanted to create a place where children can learn to shoot safely.

When children or first-timers try guns that might pose recoil problems, Prince said, his range tethers the weapon to the shooting bench. The shooters “still have full motion in the target area, but the gun can’t rise,” he said. “That keeps the gun from being turned in a dangerous angle.”

The Texas range also teaches first-timers how to use guns while they are unloaded, then lets them try the weapon with only one bullet inside, Prince said.

A video released by the sheriff’s office Tuesday afternoon shows nearly half a minute of the shooting lesson at Burgers and Bullets.

Vacca, dressed in a dark shirt and camouflage pants, speaks to a slim girl with earmuffs, braided hair and bright pink shorts.

“We have to keep that held in,” he says, showing her the Uzi in his hands. “Otherwise the gun won’t fire, OK?”

He gives her the weapon and helps her adjust her arms and her stance — “just like that” — and, at his instruction, the girl shoots once at a target. Her shot lands slightly to its left.

“All right!” Vacca cheers.

As he gives further directions, a quick sequence of shots can be heard, and the gun begins tilting up. The video clip ends before he is struck.

In 2008, 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj died in a similar accident at a gun expo in Massachusetts. The boy was firing an Uzi at a pumpkin when the recoil caused him to lose control of the weapon, and he fatally shot himself in the head.

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