LAS VEGAS » Authorities say the death of an 8-year-old Las Vegas boy found shot to death last month has been ruled a suicide. Experts say his death is especially tragic because a boy that young does not understand that death is final.
The Las Vegas case was reported Oct. 10, when the boy was found shot at his home in the southwestern part of the city. He was pronounced dead at the scene with a self-inflicted wound to his head.
On Wednesday, the Clark County Coroner’s office ruled his death a suicide, the youngest such death in the county in recent memory. The next youngest suicide case involved a 10-year-old.
David Mills, the coroner’s chief investigator, said the ruling was made after a comprehensive review of the witness testimony, scene reports, autopsy findings and toxicology results. A conclusive suicide indicates a voluntary, self-inflicted and premeditated death.
Mills declined to discuss the specifics of the boy’s case and wouldn’t say what circumstances confirmed the child chose to kill himself, such as threatening self-harm or leaving a note. But he said 8 is generally accepted among medical examiners as an age of reasoning, where a person can understand the difference between right and wrong, even if the concept of mortality and the finality of an action like suicide is not fully grasped.
For that reason, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it doesn’t even label death among children under 10 to technically be considered a suicide in its National Violent Death Reporting System because premeditation involves understanding death.
In a statement, the federal agency said: “… they lack the capability to understand the finality of ending their life and, developmentally, they may lack the coping skills to deal with the stressors that contribute to their suicidal feelings.”
But using data from death certificates, the CDC does report that a total of 32 children between the ages of 5 and 9 died of suicide between 2009 and 2013. No suicides were reported under the age of 5.
Dan Reidenberg of the International Association of Suicide Prevention said suicide under 10 years old is very rare worldwide. “They understand that they are in pain and they understand that they want that pain to go away, but they don’t understand life ends,” he said.
Las Vegas investigators have said the boy lived at the home but there were no adults present at the time of the incident, and the firearm belonged to a member of the household. The case is being handled by the police department’s abuse and neglect unit because of the boy’s age.
The county’s child protective services did remove a family member from the home when it opened an investigation, although a report indicates that the family had no prior history with the agency.