A 5-year-old Anchorage boy who found a loaded handgun in the drawer of a nightstand was killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Anchorage police said Tuesday.
Police identified the child as Christian Johnnson. [Update, Dec. 7: The child's mother says his name was Christan Johnson.]
Authorities say such deaths are rare and can be prevented with basic gun safety procedures. Yet in the last three years, the state has logged five unintentional firearm deaths of children under age 10. Sometimes, a parent is prosecuted when a child fires a loaded gun.
At 12:24 a.m. Tuesday, a call came into dispatchers about a child's death in the 5700 block of Rocky Mountain Court, a fourplex in East Anchorage.
The child's mother was in the kitchen preparing food. The father was elsewhere in the home, police spokesman MJ Thim said. The initial reports give no suggestion of drugs or alcohol being a factor, he said.
The mother "hears the sound of a gunshot," Thim said. "She walks into the bedroom and that's when she finds her son, who shot himself."
Christian suffered a single wound to the upper body, police said. Police say they are investigating the death and would refer the matter to the Anchorage District Attorney's Office for consideration of charges. Police aren't releasing the parents' names since they haven't been charged with any crime, Thim said.
"This is a tragic reminder about gun safety and children," police said in a written statement. "Don't leave guns unattended and easily accessible; use a gun lock or secure guns in a safe."
A 2015 incident cost a young Anchorage mother her son and left her with a felony record for criminally negligent homicide. In that case, a loaded .38-caliber revolver was left for days in the area where the 3-year-old played, and he shot and killed himself. Prosecutors said they recognized the tragedy of the situation but called the behavior of Elizabeth Morin careless to the point of criminal.
She was ordered in February to serve three months in jail as well as two years of probation. She hasn't yet served the jail time in that case, state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Megan Edge said Tuesday.
More typically, no one is charged when a young child hurts someone with a gun. A 4-year-old boy in Bethel in December 2015 got hold of a handgun while playing inside, then shot and killed himself. His father was an Alaska State Trooper; the gun was privately owned, according to media reports at the time.
In Alaska, there is no law requiring that guns be stored under lock, said Anchorage District Attorney Richard Allen. Eleven states require locking devices to accompany certain guns but only one, Massachusetts, says firearms generally must be stored locked, according to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
From 2005 through 2016, there were 62 unintentional firearm deaths in Alaska. Eleven children age 9 and younger were killed by unintentional gun violence, include four who were 4 years old or younger, according to statistics from the Alaska Violent Death Reporting System.
Most fatal firearm injuries in Alaska are intentional — suicide accounts for 75 percent of them, statistics show. Unsecured guns also are targeted by thieves, authorities say.
For the most part, young children don't mean to hurt anyone when they fire a gun but just don't have the experience, coordination or knowledge to handle one, said state injury epidemiologist Deborah Hull-Jilly.
"They may fumble a firearm. They may drop it. They are curious little beings," Hull-Jilly said.
When she was a child, her father had a security business and kept a gun on a high dresser. She was forbidden to go near it, yet couldn't stop herself from getting a look. She was too afraid to get hold of it, though, she said.
Children "may look at it as a toy, which it is not. It really behooves us to look at our homes and be sure that these guns are stored appropriately," Hull-Jilly said.
People should buy lock boxes or gun safes at the point they acquire a gun — and use them, she said. Some lock boxes have fingerprint mechanisms and can be opened with the touch of the owner, she said. But they are pricey.
"It's just good practice to keep the firearm stored securely and if at all possible locked in a lock box or gun cabinet," Hull-Jilly said. Ammunition should be stored separately.
"It's Christmas. Think about buying a lock box if you don't already have one," she said. A hunter, sportsman or collector could use one, she said.