The father of a 3-year-old boy who accidentally shot his mother to death in a Chicago suburb over the weekend is facing a misdemeanor gun charge, the community's police chief said Monday.
Dolton Police Chief Robert Collins Jr. said Romell Watson, 23, who was detained after the shooting, will be charged with unlawful use of a weapon. He'll be processed on the charge and released Monday evening, Collins said.
The Associated Press could not find a home telephone number for Watson and he could not be reached for comment on Monday. An online court record of his case that might list an attorney for him also could not be located.
Collins said earlier that investigators were working with Cook County prosecutors to determine the exact charges against Watson but that there was no indication that he fired the weapon or even knew the boy was holding the weapon at the time of Saturday's shooting.
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“We do not have anything to indicate that the dad fired the weapon so the avenue we are pursuing is that the gun was his responsibility,” Collins said.
Collins said investigators have already determined that the father legally owned the weapon but did not have a concealed carry permit he would have needed to carry it in the vehicle.
“He was legally entitled to own the gun, however, he transported the weapon in a vehicle in a manner not prescribed by law,” Collins said.
The shooting happened around 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Police said the family was sitting inside their car — the father in the driver's seat, the mother in the passenger seat and the boy in a car seat in the back — outside a Food 4 Less store in the community about 20 miles south of Chicago when the boy found the weapon.
“He somehow got ahold of the gun and began playing with it in a playful manner, pointed the gun and fired the shot,” Collins said. A bullet struck 22-year-old Daejah Bennett in the neck, the chief said. She was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.
Collins said detectives conducted what is called a forensic interview with the child. A person who specializes in talking to children interviewed the boy and during that interview, “The child said he was the one who fired the gun," he said. “We are confident he fired the gun.”
“This is just such a tragedy,” he said.
The shooting was the latest example of an all too familiar story in the United States: A child finds a gun and inadvertently fires it.
According to a leading gun control advocacy group,Everytown for Gun Safety, in 2020, unintentional shootings by children under 18 years old left 142 people dead and 242 wounded.
In 2021, the number of deaths climbed to 154 and the number of people wounded rose slightly to 244. And, according to the group, 16 people have been killed and 29 have been wounded in these shootings so far this year.
According to a 2021 report that examined a six-year-period ending in 2020, the group suggested a number of factors have contributed to a significant increase in these shootings in recent years.
“In 2020, gun sales surged 64 percent, and this rise—coupled with school and childcare center closures as a result of the pandemic—has increased the risk for all household residents: the number of unintentional shooting deaths by children was 31 percent higher from March through December 2020 than during the same period in 2019," the report said.
While teenagers between 14 and 17 years old accounted for more of these incidents in which they shot themselves or someone else accidentally — 776 — during that six-year period, children five years old or younger accounted for the second highest total of 610. In fact, that total was higher than the combined total of elementary and middle school-age children who unintentionally shot themselves or someone else, the group found.