6/11/2013 7:49:00 AM Police await medical examiner's report in Friday shooting
Officers investigate the scene of an accidental shooting, Friday in Prescott Valley.
Photo courtesy Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Lisa Irish Special to the Tribune
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.