A real, loaded firearm mistaken for a toy had a tragic outcome Tuesday in Louisa County, Virginia, according to authorities.
A 4-year-old boy got ahold of the gun somehow just before 11 a.m., multiple media outlets reported. Thinking it was a toy, he fired it while he and his 2-year-old brother were playing, said the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office, CBS 6 reported. But the weapon wasn't fake, authorities said, and a bullet hit the toddler in the chest. Tyson "Ty" Aponte was airlifted to a hospital where he later died, NBC 12 reported.
"It's horrible, it's devastating. You come into a scene like this and you see all the carnage. You see everything," said Maj. Donnie Lowe, WVIR reported.
The boys’ mother was at home when the shooting happened, the news station said. Their father was at work, authorities said.
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Neighbor Linda Eddy, who says she’s known the family for more than 10 years, told WVIR that “there is no way” the children’s parents would leave out a loaded gun.
“They're good people, and take care of their children and make sure they have everything they need," Eddy said.
Lowe urged gun-owners to ensure their firearms are secured and “out of the reach of children,” CBS 6 reported. "At least have them unloaded or a safety lock on them,” he said. ‘Whatever you have to do to keep them from being discharged accidentally."
Authorities in areas near and far have given the same warnings following accidental shootings. In Prescott Valley, Arizona, a 7-year-old autistic boy accidentally shot his sleeping father in the back in March, police said. Deputies said weapons should not only be locked up, but have a “locking device on the gun itself.”
Lowe said the Virginia shooting will be “thoroughly investigated,” CBS 6 reported. "Our heart breaks for this family,” he said. “...They're devastated, naturally, so we want to do everything we can to help them."
More than 1,000 children are treated in the U.S. each year for accidental gunshot wounds, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics last year. Another 4,500 are also treated for assaults, suicides, homicides and other shooting-related causes, and about 1,300 children die from those injuries, the study said.