Police officer's son recovering quickly from bullet wound Parents worry over effect of shooting on brother

June 25, 1991|By John Rivera

Christopher Gillespie sat on his mother's lap yesterday and asked if he could go home.

One day after being shot through the chest with his father's pistol, the 3-year-old son of a Baltimore County police officer is recovering quickly. Although his condition is still listed as critical by the pediatric intensive care unit at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, he is awake and talking and has had most of the tubes removed from his body.

"He's healing so rapidly, it's unbelievable," said his father, Officer Steven Gillespie, a three-year veteran of the police force. "We're so blessed."

His parents were exhausted but relieved yesterday as they reflected on the events of the day before that almost took their son's life.

Christopher was shot as his 6-year-old brother handled a gun that his father inadvertently left on a living room end table the previous night. Although a police spokesman said Sunday that the two children were playing with the gun when it fired, the Gillespie family said yesterday that the older boy was trying to take the gun away from the younger child when it went off.

Officer Gillespie had worked Saturday night as a security officer at a McDonald's restaurant in Essex and arrived at his Edgewood house, in the 1300 block of Harford Square Drive, about 1 a.m.

"My son-in-law needs to work a second job to support his family," because his pay as a police officer is not sufficient, said Calvin R. Householder, Officer Gillespie's father-in-law.

As Officer Gillespie started toward the stairs on the way to his second-floor bedroom, he saw a Bible lying on a piano in the living room and decided to read for a few minutes. He took off his shoes and put the gun he used as security officer, his own Smith & Wesson five-shot revolver, on an end table, still in its holster.

Sitting in a chair in the living room, he started feeling drowsy, then fell asleep. During the night, he awoke; and as he got up, he looked down and saw his shoes. He picked them up and went upstairs.

The next morning, the Gillespie's elder son got up and began watching television in the basement. Later, Christopher came downstairs with his mother.

"I brought my son down with me, and I had to go to the bathroom," said Angela Gillespie, the boy's mother.

She was in there just a minute or two when she heard a shot, and her 6-year-old son started yelling, "My brother is bleeding! My brother is bleeding!"

"From what I gather, he took the gun from my youngest son; and the gun went off," Mrs. Gillespie said.

"I just ran out," she said. "I saw my son, Christopher; and as I got there, I saw the blood start to come from his chest."

Her father is even more adamant that police reports stating the boys were playing with the gun were inaccurate.

The 6-year-old boy told him he came up the basement stairs and saw his younger brother holding the weapon. Remembering his father's stern warnings about his gun, the 6-year-old "said to not do that and took away the pistol from Christopher," Mr. Householder said.

The gun, which had a hair-trigger, fired. The bullet passed through the right side of Christopher's chest and lodged in the couch.

DeWayne Curry, spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Department, said it is often difficult to determine exactly what happened when investigators have to interview such a young child. He said it is possible that the family's version of events is correct.

After her son was shot about 8:40 a.m., Mrs. Gillespie yelled to her husband to call 911, but he could not hear her. The 6-year-old ran to the kitchen and dialed 911.

At that point, Officer Gillespie heard the commotion and came running downstairs.

Paramedics arrived and started administering treatment, and Christopher was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital in a Maryland State Police medevac helicopter, his father accompanying him.

During the helicopter ride, "He expressed things to me that were unbelievable," Officer Gillespie said. "He was so strong."

On Sunday, Christopher underwent 1 1/2 hours of surgery to remove bone fragments and repair damaged tissue.

Yesterday he sat on his mother's lap, saying what a normal 3-year-old stuck in a hospital would.

"He wants down," Mrs. Gillespie said. "He wants to go home."

His father is amazed at his quick recovery.

"Who would think a boy would get shot one day and be out of bed the next?" he said.

The Gillespies are tired of the attention to the shooting and worry about the effect of the incident on their older son. And they think of what might have happened.

"I can tell you, this is the very first time that gun has ever, ever been left out," his father said, as he fingered one of Christopher's toys, a small Batman action figure. He normally handcuffs his gun and keeps it locked in a cubbyhole in the back of his closet and stores the ammunition separately, he said.

But it just took one time, he said.

"It's a mistake that never should have happened," he said. "And I pray that any police officer or gun owner could feel what I feel, without having to go through it. Because it's a mistake that will last forever."

Baltimore County police have said that once the Harford County sheriff's office completes its investigation, the North Point precinct where Officer Gillespie works will conduct a command-level review of the incident. Mr. Curry said yesterday that the Harford County sheriff will send the case to the state's attorney's office for review and that the state's attorney will decide whether any charges should be filed.

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