Skip to main Content
Alaska News

In 15 years, 38 children have died from accidental shootings in Alaska. Here’s what we know about them.

Last week, a 5-year-old Anchorage boy named Amonzel Binion opened a kitchen cabinet in his Spenard mobile home while his babysitter was out of the room, found a loaded handgun and shot himself, according to police.

The boy, who would have been the age to enter kindergarten this fall, became the 38th child to die from an unintentional shooting in Alaska since 2003.

Police are still investigating the child's death, said Anchorage police spokesman M.J. Thim. No charges have been filed against anyone.

Every death of a child is wrenching, but unintentional firearm deaths involving children under 18 are relatively unusual in Alaska, according to Deborah Hull-Jilly, program manager of the Injury Surveillance Program with the state's Section of Epidemiology.

There are so few that it's difficult to compare Alaska's rate of such deaths with that of other states with bigger populations.

Data provided to the Daily News by the Alaska Violent Death Reporting System detail the circumstances in which Alaskans under 18 have been most often killed on accident by firearms. (The data analyzed does not include Binion, the most recent victim.)

The data shows that of the 37 victims:

• They were mostly young. Nineteen victims, or 51 percent, were children 12 or younger. And nine victims, or 24 percent, were 6 or younger.

• 51 percent of victims — 19 children — were Alaska Native.

• Thirty-two victims — 86 percent — were boys.

• 76 percent of the time, the fatal shot was fired by another person. In 22 percent of the cases, the gunshot was self-inflicted — but not intentionally.

• In about a third of deaths, the gun that killed the child belonged to one of their parents. In 16 percent of cases the gun was owned by another family member.

• A third of the time, the gun involved was stored loaded.

• In nearly half of the deaths, the shooting happened when children were playing with the gun. Twenty-two percent of the time it was when someone was "showing the weapon to others."

• Nearly half of the time the shooting happened at the victim's home.

Children under 18 are killed by unintentional gunfire, on average, 2.5 times per year in Alaska, according to the data. It happens in villages and in cities, under all kinds of circumstances.

For example: In 2015, a group of children playing in Ambler, east of Kotzebue,  discovered a gun in the rafters of a shed. While they were playing with it, an 8-year-old boy was killed. About a quarter of the deaths captured in the state data happened in the northern region of Alaska, which includes Ambler.

The same year, a 3-year-old boy found a loaded gun left out by his mother in an Anchorage home and was killed by a gunshot wound to the head. About 22 percent of the deaths happened in Anchorage or the Mat-Su area.

In 2015, the son of an Alaska state trooper in Bethel found a loaded gun and shot himself. In Kokhanok in 2016, two boys were playing video games when an 11-year-old accidentally shot a 5-year-old.

About 24 percent of the deaths happened in Southwest Alaska, which includes Bethel.

At least two young children other than Binion have been killed by accidental gunshots in the last 12 months: In December, an Anchorage boy, 5, found a loaded handgun on his parents' nightstand and shot himself.

A 3-year-old boy in Utqiagvik died on a Medevac flight out of the city in March after he was shot under circumstances described as accidental by troopers.

Alaska has no law governing children's access to firearms.

Twenty-seven states have firearm child access prevention laws, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an advocacy group.

The laws range from Massachusetts, where all firearms have to be stored with a locking device, to states such as Texas and California that impose criminal liability on an adult if a child has access to a firearm — whether they get hurt or not.

In Alaska, it's rare for a gun owner to be prosecuted when a child gets hold of the weapon and someone dies or is injured.

Prosecutors review each incident and decide whether the child getting hold of a gun rises to the level of criminal negligence, according to the Department of Law.

The last case prosecutors say they recall is that of Elizabeth Morin, a young Anchorage mother whose 3-year-old son grabbed a loaded handgun and shot himself in 2015.

Prosecutors charged Morin, saying that leaving a loaded .38-caliber revolver in reach of her preschool-aged son for days was careless enough to be considered criminal.

Morin had dropped out of high school in her junior year to have her son, according to sentencing documents from the case against her. At 21, she was working at a restaurant when she became afraid of a man she knew who was stalking her, her sentencing file says. Her father gave her his revolver for protection and took her once to a shooting range to learn to fire it. She had little if any experience with guns, and had admonished her son to "stay away from mommy's gun," her attorney wrote.

Morin was in the process of moving out of her house when she left the gun out and failed to notice for days, her attorney wrote. After she discovered he'd shot himself with her gun, she called 911 frantically and tried to drive her son to the emergency room.

Morin's attorney argued she had already paid the worst penalty.

"She grieves the loss of her son and carries the almost unbearable knowledge that her mistake cost him his life," he wrote on her behalf.

A judge sentenced her to three months in jail.

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.

Comments