TOMS RIVER, N.J. » A 4-year-old child who brought a gun outside his home shot and seriously wounded a 6-year-old neighbor when the weapon somehow discharged as they played together, authorities said today.
The child got the .22-caliber rifle from inside his home in Toms River in southern New Jersey and it discharged accidently around 6:40 p.m. Monday, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said during a news conference. The wounded child was about 15 yards away from the younger one at the time.
The younger child’s mother then called 911 to report the shooting, Coronato said.
The wounded child was shot in the head and hospitalized in serious condition, and further details on his injuries were not disclosed. The younger child was not hurt.
Coronato declined to provide specific details on the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation, and said it was "too early" to know whether anyone would be charged in the case. He would not say who owned the gun or speculate on how the 4-year-old got the weapon.
Toms River Police Chief Michael Mastronardy called the shooting a "tragic incident" that has affected the whole community.
"Right now, we’re keeping this child in our prayers, and I ask everyone to do the same," he said.
The shooting occurred in what neighbors say is a quiet residential area of the Ocean County community, at a home near the edge of a cul-de-sac.
"I’m sad for the children involved and their families, but I’m angry with whoever owns that gun and allowed a little child to get hold of it. A 4-year-old can’t load a gun," said Debi Coto, who lives a few doors down from where the shooting occurred. She said the families of the two children involved had not lived in the neighborhood for too long, and she did not know them well.
Coto said she was home when the shooting occurred but did not hear the gunshot. She said it initially wasn’t clear what had happened, but then neighbors saw police bring out the gun.
"I had just been telling my sister how nice it is to see kids playing together and enjoying themselves, and then this happens," she said.
Coto said the 4-year-old’s mother seemed "very upset" about what had happened and appeared to be trying to determine what had happened.
The shooting came just days after a 4-year-old boy in Tennessee grabbed a loaded gun at a family cookout and accidentally shot and killed the wife of a sheriff’s deputy.
Investigators said Wilson County Deputy Daniel Fanning was showing his weapons to a relative in a bedroom of his Lebanon home on Saturday when the boy came in and picked up a gun off the bed. Sheriff Robert Bryan said the weapon discharged, hitting 48-year-old Josephine Fanning, who died at the scene.
The accidents happened amid debate over gun control laws in the wake of December’s Connecticut school massacre.