How likely charges will be filed after 4-year-old unintentionally shot, killed by younger sister

Rosie Nguyen Image
Tuesday, March 14, 2023
Will charges be filed in deadly accidental shooting of 4-year-old?
The DA says that if the gun owner in a child's death was one of the parents, it's rare they'll be charged since the jury will most likely say that losing a child is already the worst form of punishment.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It will take at least one week before prosecutors decide if any charges will be filed in the accidental fatal shooting of a 4-year-old girl by her younger sister Sunday evening.

Deputies responded to the call at about 7:30 p.m. at the Saddlewood Apartments in northwest Houston. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said this happened while five adults, who were friends and family, were hanging out in one of the apartments.

"It appears that one parent thought the other parent was maybe watching the other children. When in fact, the two toddlers were left basically unsupervised inside the bedroom. The 3-year-old gained access to a loaded semi-automatic pistol," Gonzalez said. "It's a tragic situation. A very preventable situation. Our hearts are broken. The community's impacted when a child loses their life in this way."

RELATED: 4-year-old accidentally shot, killed by younger sister in NW Harris County, according to HCSO

So, will the parents or whoever owns the gun face any charges?

According to the Harris County District Attorney's Office, Texas law prohibits investigators from charging or arresting the parents for at least seven days after the child's death to allow for a "mourning period." Prosecutors will then take the case to a grand jury to decide whether the parents will be charged.

ABC Owned Television Stations' Data Team found that 23 children have been shot by another child under the age of 13 across the state of Texas since Jan. 1, 2020. Four of those incidents were in Houston, and four others were in surrounding areas like Jefferson County, Katy, Montgomery County, and La Porte.

But how often do these cases actually end in prosecution?

Our 13 Investigates team obtained data from the DA's office going back to Sept. 1, 1995, when Texas passed a law requiring adults to keep loaded firearms out of a child's reach. Between then and May 3, 2022, there were between zero to eight instances per year of an adult making a firearm accessible to a child. Not all of them resulted in death.

RELATED: 13 Investigates: Significant jail time rare after kids get hold of guns

Out of 83 cases where an adult was charged, less than half of them actually resulted in a fine, probation, or jail time. These cases rarely result in a guilty plea or significant jail time. Our 13 Investigates analysis shows a majority of cases are dismissed or result in deferred adjudication of guilt.

The DA's office told ABC13 that if the gun owner in a deadly child case was one of the parents, it's very rare that they'll actually be charged. Typically, the reasoning from the grand jury is that losing your child is already the worst form of punishment for a parent.

Gonzalez emphasized the importance of gun owners securing their weapons using a gun safe or lock.

"This week is spring break. A lot of kids are going to be at home. The summer is not that far away. There always seems to be an uptick of these types of cases," Gonzalez said.

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