DALLAS, Ga. — It was in many ways a typical American morning: Mom making breakfast for the kids, Dad upstairs getting their twin daughters ready for the day. His backpack was in the living room, waiting for him to carry it to work. Their 3-year-old son was nearby, playing by himself.
That’s how it looked on April 26 for the Cole family in Dallas, Georgia, a small community about 35 miles north of Atlanta. Amid the distractions of the morning, little Holston Cole did what 3-year-olds do. He went exploring. He found father’s book bag, opened it and took out the gun tucked inside. As he sat on the sofa, Holston pulled the trigger and shot himself in the chest. He died moments later.
His parents and siblings continue to deal with their grief. They aren’t yet ready to talk about the events of that morning, but police documents, the 911 recording made by his father and Holston’s pastor paint a picture of a precocious little boy who liked super-heroes, wrestling and endless jumps inside a bouncy house.
“Holston was a firecracker,” said Brent Moxey, the family’s pastor at West Ridge Church. “He was definitely a go-getter on things. You knew when Holston was in the room, that’s for sure. … He was action packed all the time. For him, I think he just loved to discover things and figure out how stuff worked, and look at stuff and tinker.”
Nationally, the deaths and injuries are most numerous for children under 5, according to shooting reports examined by The Associated Press and the USA Today Network, using information gathered by the non-partisan Gun Violence Archive and other public sources.
Many of these accidents are self-inflicted, by children who get hold of a relative’s firearm, according to the data analyzed.
The most common place, by far, for such shootings? Their own homes.
Three-year olds like Holston are the most common shooters and victims, the review found. The numbers jump again in the teenage years, when victims are most often fatally shot by other children and typically survive self-inflicted gunshots.
In Georgia, the per capita rate of such shootings is nearly twice the national average: From January 2014 through June 30 of this year, 23 children were killed and an additional 36 were injured. In fact, states in the Deep South are among those with the highest per capita rates of accidental shootings involving minors.
In the months since Holston Cole’s death, the church and his family have rallied around each other. Their mission is not one that centers on gun control. Instead, they are focused on encouraging people to take more time to cherish their loved ones, the family pastor said.
“They just don’t want their little boy’s death to be in vain,” Moxey said.