A 6-year-old boy shot his 3-year-old brother in the chest yesterday, a few hours after their father -- a Baltimore County police officer -- fell asleep and left a handgun on a table at their Edgewood home, authorities said.
Chris Gillespie was listed in serious condition last night at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was shot through the right side of his chest about 8:40 a.m. by a bullet from a Smith & Wesson 5-shot revolver owned by his father, said Deputy DeWayne Curry of the Harford County sheriff's office.
The father, Officer Stephen Gillespie, had left the gun in a pouch on a living room table of the family's home in the 1300 block of Harford Square Drive. The deputy said that Officer Gillespie's sons were playing with the gun when it fired, the bullet passing through the boy's chest and lodging in a couch.
The boy was flown by state police Medevac helicopter to Johns Hopkins. His condition was upgraded from critical to serious yesterday afternoon following surgery, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The shooting left neighbors on Harford Square Drive -- a quiet cul-de-sac -- visibly shaken. Several who were standing on a sidewalk across the street from the Gillespies' two-story brick town house refused to speak with reporters.
One woman, who refused to give her name, said in a telephone interview that the family had lived in the neighborhood about three years. The sons are the only children, she said.
"They are a very nice couple. It's a shame this had to happen," she said. "They are the first there to help you out."
She said that the 6-year-old attends Magnolia Elementary School and described the younger boy as a very small child, with blond hair and blue eyes, who "just never runs out of energy." Officer Gillespie, who has been on the Baltimore County force three years, is assigned to the North Point precinct, according to county police spokesman E. Jay Miller.
The weapon was not Officer Gillespie's service pistol, but personal property he apparently used while working a second job as a security guard at a McDonald's restaurant, the police spokesman said.
Mr. Miller said Officer Gillespie apparently returned home from his second job -- which would have been approved by his superiors -- about 1 a.m., put the gun into a pouch on the table and then fell asleep in a chair.
He woke up a short time later and went to bed, leaving the gun on the table, where it was found by the children, Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Miller said department policy requires officers to store weapons "ina safe manner" when off duty.
He said that like all members of the police force, Officer Gillespie completed annual safety training sessions that are a part of the firearms qualifications requirements.
Mr. Miller said that once the Harford County sheriff's office completes its investigation, a command level review of the incident will be conducted by Baltimore County Police Capt. James Scannell, commander of the North Point precinct, to determine if there was any violation of the department's handgun policies.
The county police force recommends several options for storing weapons while off-duty. They include use of trigger guard locks, safety lock boxes, handcuffing the gun's cylinder, and storing guns and ammunition separately.
A handgun control activist concerned about yesterday's accident said it was more evidence of the need for a state law -- like one adopted by Baltimore this month -- requiring that handguns kept in houses with children be unloaded, locked in a cabinet or locked with a trigger guard.
"We hope to convince the legislature to enact this next year," said Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse. "Keeping guns locked or unloaded will prevent these tragedies from happening in future."