Investigators believe a 4-year-old boy fatally shot himself after finding a gun in the back seat of a vehicle while his mother and a friend smoked marijuana in the front, a Louisiana sheriff said Monday.
The child died of a gunshot wound to the head in Saturday night’s incident in Westwego, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, officials said.
“These types of deaths can certainly be prevented,” Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto said at a news conference.
The child’s 1-year-old and 22-month-old siblings were also in the vehicle, officials said. No other injuries were reported.
Investigators initially thought the child was shot from behind or that a sibling may have shot him, but an autopsy confirmed he was shot from the front, Lopinto said.
The gun belongs to the child's father, who was not there at the time of the shooting, and was left under a seat. The mother and her friend did not know the weapon was there, the sheriff said.
No arrests have been made, and evidence will be sent to the district attorney’s office for consideration, he said.
The mother and her friend admitted they were using marijuana at the time but no pot was recovered from the vehicle. They have been cooperative in the investigation, Lopinto said.
“I don’t think it was appropriate to make an arrest on this at this point,” he said. “They’ve just lost a child. It certainly wasn’t intentional by any means.”
Lopinto urged people to never leave guns unsecured.
“We shouldn’t ever leave a gun inside of a vehicle for numerous different reasons, this one being the most tragic reason,” he said
Last year, there were at least 371 unintentional shootings by children, which resulted in 151 deaths, according to gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
Last month a toddler got hold of a handgun inside a car in Texas and the weapon went off, wounding his mother and young sibling, police said. Neither were seriously hurt.
In August in Florida, a 2-year-old fatally shot his mother as she was on a work Zoom call after finding the weapon in the home, according to authorities.