Fatal shooting of Balto. Co. boy was accidental, police believe

Randallstown child, 4, apparently found gun, shot himself, police say

April 28, 2004|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The 4-year-old Randallstown boy who died Monday night of a gunshot to the head apparently fired the weapon himself after finding it inside a duffel bag in his family's home, police said yesterday.

Miles Patrick Smith Jr. fired one shot while he was playing with a loaded semiautomatic handgun that he had found in a bag on the living room sofa, police spokesman Bill Toohey said.

The child was alone in the room, but two adults - not the boy's parents - and several other children were home at the time, Toohey said. Police are withholding the identities of adults as they conduct their investigation, he said. But police believe the shooting to be accidental, a finding based upon initial interviews and the results of an autopsy yesterday, Toohey said.

One of the adults dialed 911 upon hearing a gunshot and seeing the boy lying in the living room, Toohey said. Officers and paramedics were dispatched at 5:54 p.m. to the house in the 3900 block of Bryony Road.

Smith was flown to Johns Hopkins Hospital's pediatric intensive care unit, where he was pronounced dead last night. His mother, Nicole Wright-Smith, 34, was at his bedside, police said.

Information about the shooting has come out slowly because police are trying to be sensitive to the family as they conduct their investigation, Toohey said.

"We're giving the family time to mourn and grieve," he said.

Neighbors said they have not seen any members of the family - mother, father Miles Patrick Smith, 36, and older brother and sister of Miles Jr. - since the shooting.

A dog barked from inside the ranch-style brick home and a car was parked in the driveway, but no one answered the door yesterday. The home's shades were pulled.

Neighborhood children who played basketball and football with Miles Jr., whose father coached his clinic basketball team, were still stunned yesterday.

"I cried myself to sleep last night, said Tanisha Purnall, 12.

Friends, neighbors and police have described the Smiths as a typical middle-class suburban family.

Detectives are tracking the history of the gun, Toohey said, and are not disclosing information about its owner. Police also are not saying whether the gun was registered and why it was in the Smith's living room.

Police had not recently been called to the Smith residence on Bryony Road, Toohey said, and neither of the boy's parents has a criminal record.

Gun-control advocacy groups, such as CeaseFire Maryland, and pro-gun groups, such as the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association, point to the shooting as a tragedy that could have been avoided if the gun had been properly secured.

"It's just a no-brainer that kids and guns don't mix," said Leah Barrett, executive director of CeaseFire. "Parents should know to keep guns away from children."

Sanford Abrams, president of the firearms dealers association and owner of Valley Gun in Parkville, said young children "should never be anywhere near a firearm."

"At the very least, it's a terrible accident," he said.

Maryland law requires that an adult not leave a loaded gun where he or she "knew or should have known" that an unsupervised youngster "would" gain access to it. New firearms sold in the state also must be outfitted with an internal lock.

A Carroll County man is on trial this week, charged with reckless endangerment for allegedly keeping loaded firearms within the reach of a sleeping 12-year-old girl. In August, police found more than 100 weapons - including submachine guns - at the Mount Airy home of licensed gun dealer Amir H. Tabassi.

Last year, in Prince George's County, a 4-year-old boy fatally shot his 5-year-old sister and wounded his 7-year-old brother with a semiautomatic handgun.

Similar accidental shootings in the 1990s led to the passage in 2000 of a law requiring internal trigger locks on new handguns sold in Maryland - the only such law in the United States.

The law went into effect in January last year, but state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller led an unsuccessful effort to loosen it during this year's legislative session.

Miller's legislation failed to make it out of committee, and the Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000 remains in effect.

Sun staff writer Stephanie Hanes contributed to this article.

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