3-year-old injured by gun he found

Boy critically hurt when he shoots himself while playing

Handgun hidden in bedding

Law requires parents to keep weapons unloaded, locked up

June 07, 1999|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

A 3-year-old boy playing in the basement of his East Baltimore rowhouse with his father upstairs found a handgun hidden in bedding and accidentally shot himself in the head yesterday afternoon, police said.

Jordan Garris, who lives in the first block of N. Ellwood Ave. with his parents and two sisters, ages 2 and 1, was in critical condition last night in the pediatric intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said a spokeswoman there.

Police said they were investigating whether charges should be filed because the Ruger 9 mm semiautomatic handgun was not locked up.

Baltimore law requires parents who keep weapons at home to have them unloaded and locked away so children can't get to them, said Sgt. Frederick H. Bealefeld III of the homicide unit.

After the recent shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, the U.S. Senate on May 20 voted in favor of a law that would require handgun manufacturers to build child-safety devices into all new weapons.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening created a task force Friday to draft legislation requiring all guns sold in the state to be equipped with locks or electronic devices that allow only their owners to fire them.

Neighbors described Jordan as "smiling, energetic, curly-haired" and his parents as "attentive."

"If I had a gun in the house like that, I'd keep the [ammunition] clip in one place and the gun in a completely separate place," said Ronald McCullough, 49. "Jordan is a curious kid, so I can understand how he'd pick up anything [lying] around. It sounds like a terrible mistake."

The boy's father, Cliff Garris, 23, told police he was on the first floor of the house about 4 p.m. while his son was in the basement and his daughters were on the second floor. The mother was not home, police said.

Jordan might have found the gun hidden under a pillow or mattress in the basement, police said. Investigators are trying to determine who owned the gun and if the owner had a permit.

Neighbor Glenda Moore, 36, said she was watching a golf tournament on television in her basement next door when she heard a loud pop.

She saw a paramedic carrying Jordan out of the house with bandages wrapped around his head.

"I saw the father come outside, and he was like, `Oh my God, oh my God, my baby, my baby,' " said Moore. "The police questioned him, but then they stopped until he could pull himself together. It was just terrible."

Other residents who gathered on the street after the ambulances drove away said that the Jordan's parents forbade him from venturing down the sidewalk past a light post not far from their stoop.

"What's he like? He's a very happy, smiling little boy, always running around, always energetic," said Linda Smith, 48. "I gave him lollipops all the time. I can't believe this happened."

As neighbors watched detectives walking in and out of the Garris' Formstone house, the family of an 18-year-old who had just graduated from Patterson Park High School drove up in a minivan decorated with balloons praising the Class of '99.

Angela Maruffi jumped out of the van in her cap and gown, clutching her diploma, expecting a warm welcome from her neighbors. But they were silent.

"He was only this tall," Maruffi said, holding her hand about 3 feet above the sidewalk.

Pub Date: 6/07/99

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