NEW YORK — One was a curious teenager who was looking down the barrel of a gun when it accidentally discharged. Another was a 4-year-old, killed by his 5-year-old brother playing with their mother’s gun. Two more, ages 15 and 16, died when kids who never should have had guns handled them recklessly during stupid horseplay.
These children in New York and northern New Jersey are some of the more than 320 U.S. children who died in accidental shootings during a 2 ½ year period examined by The Associated Press and the USA TODAY Network.
The investigation of more than 1,000 accidental shootings of children under age 18 between Jan. 1, 2014 to June 30 of this year found that kids were most likely to be shot accidentally in states with a vibrant gun culture, especially the Deep South.
But children died in the Northeast, too, including in states with some of the toughest rules on gun ownership.
Most died in their own homes, often while playing with friends. Victims were most likely to be either very young children, not always able to tell the difference between a real gun and a toy, or teenagers.
Wilta Wordsworth, 15, was skipping school in New York City when she was shot on Sept. 11, 2015.
She had invited two teenage boys over to hang out with her and another girl at her Queens apartment.
Wordsworth was play fighting with one of the boys when he pulled out a gun, according to another girl present. It went off and a bullet hit Wordsworth in the head.
The girl ran for help while the boys fled. Wordsworth died at the hospital the day after being shot. The two teen boys were charged with manslaughter and sentenced to placement in juvenile residential facilities.
Zion Willis, 16, was visiting a friend at a Bronx apartment on Nov. 12, 2015, when a 42-year-old man who also lived there showed her and her friend a pistol.
The friend told police that the gun was left in the room and Willis picked it up to examine it. She was looking down the barrel when it went off.
She was hit in the face and died at the scene. The man who owned the gun fled but later turned himself in, and is facing a charge of involuntary manslaughter. The case is pending.
A celebration over a video game turned tragic for 16-year-old Denzel Nash on Feb. 11, 2016.
He was in a Brooklyn apartment when a 15-year-old companion pulled out a gun after scoring some points and waved it around.
It went off. Nash, described by family and friends as a skilled soccer player who was always smiling, was hit in the face. He died at a hospital.
The 15-year-old and another teen in the apartment at the time left, but were taken into custody. The 15-year-old was charged with manslaughter and sentenced to a juvenile residential facility, which can be extended annually until he turns 18 years old.
Ackeem Davis was just days away from his 17th birthday when he was shot by a friend inside his Bronx home on May 19, 2016.
Authorities said the 19-year-old shooter told them he, Davis and other friends had been playing around with the gun, a .380-caliber revolver. They thought the gun was unloaded when he pointed it at Davis and pulled the trigger.
The teen faces manslaughter and weapons possession charges. The case is pending.
Jacob Stahl, 15, was a hunting and shooting enthusiast in his hometown of Shelby, New York, about 45 miles west of Rochester.
The high school sophomore and a teen friend were in an upstairs bedroom at his home on Oct. 17, 2014, when Stahl was shot.
The Orleans County Sheriff’s Office attributed it to the careless handling of a loaded shotgun, but didn’t disclose who was holding the weapon at the time, or the circumstances that led to its firing.
THE YOUNGEST VICTIMS:
In some cases, a child’s curiosity led to tragedy, for themselves or another child, when they somehow came across firearms. In others, an adult’s mishandling of a gun turned a child into a victim.
Makayla Manners was 4 years old when authorities said she found a semi-automatic handgun in her family’s second-floor apartment in Yonkers, New York, late at night on May 25, 2015.
She somehow shot herself in the face. The girl, described by family friends as bright and energetic, died four days later at a Bronx hospital. The Westchester County District Attorney’s office said an investigation was still pending. No arrests or charges have been brought.
Four-year-old Christopher Lassiter died at the hands of his 5-year-old brother on June 25, 2016, at their home in East Orange, New Jersey.
Authorities said the weapon belonged to their mother, but didn’t specify how the older child got hold of it.
The mother, Itiyanah Spruill, was in custody at the time of her son’s funeral but was allowed to attend a private viewing the day before.
She pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child and was sentenced to a year in jail.
In Rome, New York, about 45 miles east of Syracuse, Nathaniel Hitt was a 7-month-old infant when he was killed by a gunshot wound to the head on Nov. 28, 2015.
His mother’s boyfriend, 18-year-old Henry Bartle, told police he was cleaning his shotgun after installing a new grip at their apartment, and the weapon accidentally discharged when he stood up.
Hitt, in a walker, was struck by the bullet.
Bartle pleaded guilty to manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child and was sentenced in March to 1 ½ to 3 years in prison.