The innocent play of three young children took a tragic turn, police officials said, when one of them reached into the drawer of a nightstand and pulled the trigger of a handgun stored there, fatally wounding his little brother.
“It was a terrible, terrible tragedy,” Lt. Todd Ojile said Wednesday in describing how the 19-month-old boy died at Wesley Medical Center, less than an hour after he was shot in the chest shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday.
The toddler was in a bedroom of the small house at 1312 N. Pennsylvania with his 4-year-old brother and 3-year-old half-sister, Ojile said. The 33-year-old father of the children and his brother were in the living room, and the door between the two rooms was open.
The two mothers of the three children “were out picking up some things from a store and getting ready to go to work,” Ojile said.
A 9mm handgun was stored in a nightstand drawer in the bedroom where the children were playing, he said.
“It appears the 4-year-old did know where this firearm was,” Ojile said. “He had seen the firearm.”
He did not lift and point the handgun, Ojile said. It appears he simply reached in and pulled the trigger, with the bullet passing through the nightstand and striking his brother, who was standing close by.
The two men in the house loaded all three children in a car and rushed to Wesley, calling 911 en route. The father of the children was so hysterical that dispatchers could not figure out where the shooting happened, Ojile said.
His younger brother then got on the phone and told officers where it took place: a small, two-bedroom house east of I-135 and south of 13th Street. Officers and emergency responders then descended on the house to make sure no one else was inside who might have been injured.
Investigators talked to the two older children, Ojile said Wednesday afternoon in an e-mail response to questions.
“All evidence at this time leads us to believe that the 4-year-old fired the weapon,” he said.
The gun is being processed for evidence, he said.
The case will be presented to the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office late this week or early next week, Ojile said. While the 4-year-old child is too young to face criminal charges, adults in the house may be charged with a crime.
The case is classified as an accidental death, Ojile said, because a shooting death by a child that young is not considered a homicide.
Ojile said “there is no law about how you can store a firearm,” but there is common sense, he said, and there is safety. That includes keeping any and all firearms out of the reach of children.
Ojile said he can’t remember a case like this in Wichita with a shooting victim so young.
“They’re extremely hard cases,” he said. “That’s a terrible tragedy.
“No 1-year-old should end up being shot in the chest, no matter what circumstances.”