A 4-year-old boy accidentally shot his farther in the chest, fatally wounding him at a home in Prescott Valley Arizona on Friday, authorities said.
Police identified the victim as 35-year-old Justin Stanfield Thomas of Phoenix, an Iraq War combat veteran who served in the Army Special Forces. Investigators believe that Thomas and his son were making an impromptu visit to a friend’s home in Prescott Valley.
Police said that the friend was Thomas’s former roommate and he did not know that the boy and his father were stopping by and that may have been the reason the resident did not have his firearm safely secured.
“This appears to be an accident. There was no conflict in the stories of those in the house,” said police Sgt. Brandon Bonney of the Prescott Valley Police, as WPTV reported. “The resident didn’t know his former roommate was stopping by to visit.”
Jeremy Hartt, a neighbor and a friend of everyone involved, told reporters how the incident allegedly played out.
“Apparently when Justin and his little boy showed up, within minutes, the little boy found the gun and said, ‘Hey, daddy, what’s this?’ and it went off,” said Jeremy Hartt. “He didn’t know what was going on; he was just a happy little boy.”
“I really can’t believe this happened,” said a grief-stricken Hart, “It’s tragic, that poor little boy.”
Again, police suspect the shooting was an accident, but they are going to continue their investigation to rule out any nefarious activity or gross negligence.
“At this point there is no indication of any foul play,” Sgt. Bonney told local news affiliate KSAZ. “Once investigators go through the residence…and fully process it they’ll look and see if there’s any negligence involved…but it’s something we won’t know for some time now.”
For the time being though, Sgt. Bonney wanted to remind the public of how important it is to keep guns out of the reach of children.
“I don’t know that this individual had time to do so, but it certainly needs to be at the forefront of anybody’s mind if they have a firearm and a child comes in,” said Sgt. Bonney. “It needs to be priority number one to secure those weapons.”
The boy is now in the custody of his mother.
Thomas leaves behind two children. Hartt reflected on how Thomas would want to be remembered.
“I know that he wouldn’t want us to be sad,” said Hartt. “He would always want us to remember the good times we had.”