By Stacey Mulick, McClatchy Newspapers –
TACOMA, Wash. — Pierce County prosecutors will be evaluating whether manslaughter or other charges can be filed after a 3-year-old boy found a loaded handgun inside a car and accidentally killed himself early Wednesday while his mother and her boyfriend were outside.
Prosecutors will review police reports to determine whether the boyfriend or mother acted recklessly in connection with the death of the boy, Julio Segura-McIntosh, Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said.
“It would be conduct that would be a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would do,” he said. “Based on what I have heard so far, this could constitute reckless conduct that is a gross deviation from a reasonable person would do.”
Tacoma police called the boy’s death — the third shooting of a child in less than a month in Western Washington — an accident and a tragedy.
The shooting happened about 12:30 a.m. after the boyfriend pulled into a gas station. Also in the car were the boy, his 1-year-old sister and their mother, police spokesman Naveed Benjamin said.
The boyfriend put his loaded handgun under the driver’s side seat and got out to fill the car with gas. The mother went into the convenience store to buy snacks and the two children remained in the car, police said.
Julio got out of his car seat, climbed into the front seat and found the gun, Benjamin said.
The weapon fired, wounding the boy in the head. Paramedics took him to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Benjamin said. The sister was not hurt.
Detectives interviewed the mother and boyfriend and released them.
The boy’s mother, Jahnisha McIntosh, told KOMO-TV that her son’s death was “just overwhelming.”
“I just want my baby,” she said. “I’ll do anything to get my baby back.”
McIntosh told KOMO son was an energetic and loving child.
“He was just always on the go,” she said. “He was happy, and he was telling me that he loves me. He just was very caring. He was very smart. Very smart.”
Many questions about what happened remained unanswered. Police have not said why the adults and children were out late. They were in a car with Oregon license plates but police said they lived in Tacoma.
Investigators also have not said why the boyfriend left the gun in the car or how Julio got out of his car seat — whether he was unbuckled or wriggled free from the harness.
The boyfriend has a concealed weapons permit and legally owned the gun, Benjamin said.
Under state law, people with concealed weapons permits can have their weapons with them in a vehicle but they either need to have the weapon on their person or have it unloaded and in a locked container, Benjamin said.
“If you have a concealed weapons permit and you are traveling, the weapon has to be on you,” he said. “The key issue is to have control of your weapon.”
The adults could face misdemeanor charges, such as reckless endangerment and unlawful carrying of a weapon, or felony charges of manslaughter, Lindquist said.
“We cannot make a charging decision until we have reviewed all the facts from the police reports,” he said.
Child Protective Services also will investigate the boy’s death, spokeswoman Sherry Hill said. Julio had no history with the state agency.
“Any time a child dies unexpectedly, we would certainly investigate,” Hill said. “We have to look into it just like law enforcement.”
The boy’s death was the third recent shooting of a child.
The 7-year-old daughter of a Marysville police officer was shot on Saturday in Stanwood when a sibling found a gun and fired while the parents were out of their car. She died the next day.
On Feb. 22, an 8-year-old girl was critically wounded in a Bremerton elementary school classroom when a gun fired from the backpack of a 9-year-old boy as he put it on a desk.
About one accidental firearm death of a child each year is typical in Washington state, according to statistics gathered between 2007 and 2010, said state Department of Health spokesman Tim Church.
During that same time period, an average of nine children 17 and younger ended up in the hospital because of an accidental shooting, he added.
Benjamin said Tuesday’s shooting highlighted the need for people to secure their guns.
“You can’t predict what children are going to do,” the spokesman said. “You need to unload and lock it up if you’re not carrying it.”