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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : latest news : latest news September 15, 2014

6/11/2013 6:00:00 AM
4-year-old found loaded gun near TV before killing dad, police timeline reveals
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Officers investigate the scene of an accidental shooting, Friday in Prescott Valley.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Officers investigate the scene of an accidental shooting, Friday in Prescott Valley.
Hear 911 call

Lisa Irish
The Daily Courier

While Prescott Valley police believe that Justin Thomas likely died when his 4-year-old son accidentally shot him on Friday, they are awaiting a report from the medical examiner to confirm investigators' findings.

Thomas, 34, of Phoenix came to visit a friend at a home in the 3100 block of Truwood Drive and possibly to pick up some personal property, Prescott Valley Police Sgt. Brandon Bonney said.

"Investigators learned Thomas sent a text to the resident, 26-year-old James Williams, that he was coming up," Bonney said. "Williams never got the text as he was asleep, and read it later in the presence of investigators."

Another friend who was with Thomas in the living room of the home told officers that Thomas' son found a loaded .380 caliber gun on the television stand, asked his father "What is this?" then he heard a shot, Bonney said.

They had been in the home for less than 10 minutes, the friend told the officer.

"The witness said Thomas grabbed his chest and told him to call 911, then collapsed," Bonney said.

Williams was in his bedroom when the shot was fired, Bonney said. "Williams heard the shot and went into the living room," Bonney said. "He called 911 to get help."

Williams is heard in a 911 recording released Monday saying that a man in his 30s was shot in the left side of the chest and was bleeding. With labored breathing, Williams tells a dispatcher that he wasn't sure what happened but that he believed it was an accident involving Thomas' son.

"He's non responsive, he's breathing, there's bubbles coming from his mouth," Williams says. "He looks pretty bad."

At 12:36 p.m., officers answered a call about shots fired after a caller told dispatchers a man in his 30s had been shot in the chest. Dispatchers told the people at the home how to do CPR until emergency personnel arrived.

Life Line Ambulance took Thomas to Yavapai County Regional Medical Center's East Campus where he was pronounced dead. Thomas was a father of two, and a U.S. Army special forces veteran who served in Iraq.

Investigators interviewed three adults who were at the home at the time of the shooting, Bonney said.

The 4-year-old told investigators he found the gun under the television, that he "pulled the trigger and the bullet came out," and his "Daddy got blood on him," according to the police report.

Investigators don't believe the child has ever fired a weapon before based on his statements, Bonney said. The boy is in his mother's custody at his Phoenix home.

No charges will be filed against the child, and investigators are reviewing whether any weapon-related charges might be filed against Williams, Bonney said.

Bonny said the gun owner "really wasn't in a position to know they were there or to go and secure his gun. With this person, living by himself, there wasn't necessarily any legal requirement to keep that weapon locked away."

The case has raised questions about how weapons should be stored in a home even when children aren't present. Firearms experts say gun owners have a certain responsibility for their weapons but aren't required to lock them up at all times.

Larry Kolontar, owner of Common Sense Firearms Training in Des Moines, Iowa, said the issue isn't about whether children are present inside the home - it's about control of your weapon at all times.

"If it's not on you or in a secured location, out of reach and hidden, it needs to be locked up," Kolontar said. "This is a very sad, horrible situation, but it's one of those things that could have been avoided if the owner would have taken a little more responsibility and secured the weapon."

Jon Abel, lead instructor and owner of Phoenix Firearms Training, said children also need to be taught at an early age not to point guns at people or avoid handling them altogether.

Prescott Valley police would like to ask parents to talk with their children about what they should do if they see a gun and other weapons.

"If a child ever sees a gun, we want them to know to never touch it," Bonney said. "We want them to run to tell an adult."

Investigators are waiting on the Yavapai County Medical Examiner's Office report to formally conclude this case, Bonney said.

Hear 911 call (5:11)

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Related Stories:
• 911 call released in accidental fatal shooting by 4-year-old
• 4-year-old boy accidentally shoots, kills dad in Prescott Valley

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, June 14, 2013
Article comment by: Front Sight

Nothing good comes from guns, ever.

Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2013
Article comment by: Remember Also

Attentive Listener
Guns stop many criminals in their tracks I for one will stay armed. I'd give odds a criminal would feel way safer breaking into your home then he would mine

Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2013
Article comment by: Attentive Listener

Studies have shown for years that your gun is several times more likely to kill or injure you or a loved one than it is to be used in self-defense. Why does everyone act surprised when it happens? Read this newspaper- accidental shootings are not at all uncommon.

My deepest condolences to everyone involved.

Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Article comment by: JM S

@lol at yall, you mean like in the last 4.5 years everything's been blamed on Bush? Tables have now turned. LOL

Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

They don't have to pass any new gun laws to try and fix this. What they should do is criminally charge the gun owner with manslaugher. My problem with gun ownership is that it's a one way street: it's to protect me and my family, no risk. If you had to verbally agree to the facts: that there is a chance that this household weapon will kill someone I don't want it to kill then many would think twice. And if you ran the risk of prison in the case of an accident you would think 3 times. I guarantee that in other coutries this man would be behind bars. Not here in NRA Land.

Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Article comment by: lol at yall

I am waiting patiently for the first person who will blame this on Obama.

Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Article comment by: There is no such thing as an accidental discharge

Can we please stop calling this an accident? It was an act of negligence, not an accident. There is a significant difference. Just because no one intended it to happen doesn't make it any less negligent.

Leaving a firearm in a position that it can be obtained and fired by a child can NEVER, EVER be considered an "accident." Someone will have ALWAYS done something negligent when that happens. Period. End of discussion.

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: So can you

tell me what gun law would prevent this from happening?

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: Doug W

To Wham Bam:

The reason why Europe is superior to the US, in this area, is simple. We have something called the 2nd Amendment which people use, abuse, and hide behind. As tragic as this shooting is, there’s more to come unfortunately.

To Just Curious:

I do love the US I just don’t love the gun fascination. News flash, you can still love a country and not love everything about it. For example, I see people all the time on here posting about politicians and the direction, “they feel” this country is heading and yet these same individuals choose to live here.

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: I was there at the house

There are far too many ignorant, judgmental anti-gun nuts posting on here. I was present when this incident happened and helped clean the blood off the carpet after the investigators were finished. The person lives there by himself and was a military police officer. He normally carries the small handgun in self defense. He came home and removed the handgun from his pants and placed it on the stand next to the tv. His girlfriend stayed the night and answered the door to let Justin in, after going back in the bedroom to get him up the shot was fired. There are no children that live there or ever visit except for this one unannounced visit. It's ludicrous to say it's a homeowners responsibility to childproof a home where no children are present. This was a freak accident, but of course all you geniuses already have your preconceived notions about who's at fault since you're all the judge, jury and executioners. Get a life and stop posting garbage about things you know nothing about.

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: Three Adults

The friend who accompanied the victim the resident the resident's squeeze? Lots of explanations for three people.

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: Van Krunk

@San Diego Sam, dude your name says it all, lol. Regarding "all guns have safeties" ----->Revolver (double action)

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: Craig Arps

It looks like a tragedy and an accident to me. Sad how many jump to politicize it. Small boys are naturally inquisitive. rambunctious and occasionally stubborn. It's likely he had an idea of what guns are but didn't understand the potential of this one thinking it was either a toy or not understanding the real damage it can do. They don't describe the gun but there's a chance it may have been a revolver, in which case there was likely no safety and there is no need to rack it to chamber the round. The man who owned it should have had it put away or not loaded. That's true. But since it was inside his home there is only one way to enforce a law that might be made to change that, and that certainly wouldn't jive with personal freedoms and the Constitution so that is out the window.

The answer is as usual the most ignored and most valuable answer of personal responsibility. We don't need the government to pass a law to teach us that we should instill children with a proper respect for firearms and to behave in someone else's house and listen to their parents when they say things like "put that down right now" although even well behaved children can sometimes be unruly.

The lessons here should be taken personally, and a reminder to all of us about the importance of gun safety. Calls for public or government action, new laws, etc. would be misplaced and would really not do much to remedy these kinds of accidents anyway.

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: Wham Bam

@ Just Curious: Europe has had some BIG mass shootings but the US has way more shootings of 4 or more. They happen daily here, they don't even make news unless it's in your state. Europeans are much less likely to want to have a gun, they are more afraid that there will be a mishap. They have to have training which is an obsticle to getting a gun. Americans get drunk or get mad and there's a gun nearby. You can buy one at Walmart and take it home like wine. Very different than Europe.

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: Dah, Not Again

Another thoughtless adult, leaving his loaded gun in eye's view and easy access for anyone to reach it. Yes, we have become a nation of morons.

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: Just Curious...

I wonder if the police did GSR testing on all the adults and the child in the house, just to confirm the statements that were made.

I mean, if the man was coming to collect property, the just may have been an argument over said property. A simple GSR test would prove who fired the gun and would also corroborate the witness' statements.

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: No Excuses

To the person who stated "EVERY gun has a safety. It's called the trigger finger":

You so-called safety didn't keep this child from pulling the trigger, did it?!?

A more valid argument is that the outcome may have been different if Mr. Williams decided not to have a round in the chamber.
In the rare case of a home invasion it would've taken merely two seconds to rack the slide. Although the weapon would not have been out of reach of a minor, it would have given the adults additional time to react to the situation.

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: Just Curious

WhamBam, if Europe is superior, why aren't you still there? While you're packing your bags, go to http://frontpagemag.com/2012/dgreenfield/europe-has-same-rate-of-multiple-victim-shootings-as-the-united-states/, or just search "Europe Has Same Rate of Multiple Victim Shootings as the United States," dated December 2012.

San Diego Sam, Arizona is not the only state with gun problems. Go to Mother Jones and search for A Guide to Mass Shootings in America (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map). I count seven in CA and one in AZ.

So now what do you both say?

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: I'll take mine now

A publication "Litigation under the fed open gov laws "privacy act of 1974 . Says that a remedy of no less than $1000 per violation can be obtained . Now thats alot of scratch ! Figuring our privacy has been violated by the government going back to 1981 and most recently the 24/ 7 mining of data going back at least 10 yrs admittedly now by the government . We all can rejoice in the huge settlement check( $1000 a day x's every US citizen x's 10 yrs ) that we will all receive . Dont hold your breath waitin for the check . Just like when the "private" companies take your info and sell it or do what they will with it , you wont find many successful prosecutions there either . Still its nice to imagine the job creation of printing money to pay such a settlement off with those presses operating 24/7 for the next 20 or 30 yrs , or the jobs of dividing up the gold and silver to give to everyone ( not enough of that either ? I wonder how the value of the new electronic currency will be set ? Ahh does it even matter when it can evaporate by cyber criminals or governments engaging in this type of behavior ? The illusion of financial systems and governments are evaporating as fast as an Arizona creek .

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: Buck Gal

They need to start administering a IQ test to be able to buy a gun . They are worried about people with mental illness buying guns but what stupid people ?

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: Anna B

I find it interesting that witnesses report the child asking his father, "What is this?" when he was holding the gun and yet, investigators report the child as saying he "pulled the trigger and the bullet came out." Sounds a lil suspicious to me that he would know what happens when you use a gun and words like "pulled", "trigger", and "bullet" when he didn't even know what a GUN was to begin with. This is an extremely sad situation and I don't know any of the parties involved, but if I were an officer on this case, I'd be interested to know how the child got a crash course on gun 101 between the shot being fired and the cops asking him about it...

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: All Too Typical

A family suffers a devastating loss and all most can do is blather anti-American, anti-Arizona, anti-gun nonsense. Stay classy losers.

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: He Knew The Job Was Dangerous When He Took It

The problem with the gun ownership thing is that this man will probably not do any time. He should, because if you choose to have a accessable weapon in your home ready to fire then you should be held legally responsible if there is an accidental injury or death with that weapon. In many other countries he would be behind bars, and rightly so. One of my friends' son was accidenatlly killed with a gun that was left laying around by his friends dad after school. The dad didn't do any time. A trained weapons expert can access a locked weapon in plenty of time to defend himself. We have very lax gun laws here.

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: just saying about safety

EVERY gun has a safety. It's called the trigger finger......the best and most secure safety. Having said that, I'm sure the 4 year old wasn't aware of that but I'm just saying, for those who say not every gun has a safety........and I AM a gun advocate......

Posted: Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Article comment by: accidents happen

Really people...accidents happen and this person has died because of a accident...they will all have to live with that...charges and waste of our tax dollars make no sense. What people do and have in there home is there business not yours or the governments. So tired of all you crack head people wanting more crazy laws and more government control.

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