DETROIT – The father ran to the bedroom, screamed and beat the walls.
“Oh, my God. What has y’all?” he shouted.
Christopher Head found his 9-year-old son, Daylen, dead in a bedroom in the west-side Detroit home, a single shotgun blast to the head of the boy. He had the play of video games, according to the police reports. Christopher Head, not pull the trigger, but he would soon be the one to go to jail.
No AMERICAN city has seen as many young children die in gun accidents as Detroit. And no other court system has handed out sentences as severe for the adults who were involved.
Head of the crime was leaving a firearm unattended. His 10-year-old daughter found the shotgun and pulled the trigger, while emulating a video game.
Prosecutors charged him with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, child abuse and gun crimes, including being a felon in possession of a firearm. They are also charged him as a habitual offender for his string of previous convictions for extortion and drug offenses. A jury acquitted the Head of the second-degree murder, but convicted him of the rest.
He was sentenced to a maximum of 52 years in prison, the longest sentence imposed on a child by accident, the gun death over the past three years, an analysis by the USA TODAY Network and The Associated Press found. The organizations examined 152 gun accidents of 2014 to 2016 in which a child under the age of 12 years, either killed themselves or was shot and killed by another child.
The earliest Head will walk is 2043, when he 72.
In an interview from the prison, Head said he kept the gun for protection. He said that he got out of parole, got a house and two jobs: “I did what a father should do,” he told the Detroit Free Press.
“I just keep rewinding and rewinding,” he said about the accident and his subsequent sentence. “I don’t deserve this.”
Daylen was one of six children under 12 who died in accidental shooting in Detroit during the three years studied by the news organizations.
As a result of those shootings, a mother, a father, a number of grandparents, and two friends of the family are confronted with the prison, probation and some of the lengthiest prison sentences in the country after the fatal gun accidents, according to the analysis.
“These serious injuries and deaths are completely and absolutely to be prevented,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in an e-mail to the Free Press.
She said: it is unacceptable for children to be killed or injured, because gun owners leave their firearms unsecured and within easy reach.
“These children are just as dead as those who are unfortunately caught in random violence in our streets. We should all demand that there is accountability for the preventable deaths of these children,” she said in the e-mail.
“For me, it’s not even a hard call.”
Worthy said her office does not charge the parents or guardians if they took precautions to have the weapon locked and secured.
Elsewhere in Michigan, and the rest of the country, the news organizations have little uniformity in prosecutors’ decisions about whether or not to punish adults in such cases. About half of the 152 fatal accidents in the united states TODAY, Network and the AP investigated led to criminal prosecution, usually against parents who authorities said should be watching their children more closely, or secure their guns more carefully.
Only about half of the people convicted of a crime ended up in prison or in jail; when they did, the typical sentence was approximately four years.
There was no clear pattern for the charge of responsible adults, or gun owners, with the exception of the cases that involved people who had previously been convicted of felonies and are prohibited from having a gun, just as in four of the six cases in Detroit.
The city struggled for decades with some of the nation’s highest violent crime, leading prosecutors to draw a hard line on accidental shootings involving minors.
Wayne County 3rd Circuit Judge Qiana Lillard told the Free Press that since 2014, she has headed at least two cases of children who died after use of improperly stored firearms.
“With the culture of violence in the city, the kids are always collateral damage, and it’s just tragic,” Lillard said.
Jamel Witcher Jr., 4, was shot in the chest in Detroit by 4-year-old nephew in 2014 after she found a loaded rifle in a bedroom of a house where the children were playing. The police said the girl found the gun near a bed. It was not locked, nor was it put away and out of reach of children, police said.
According to court records, Jamel’s grandmother, her estranged husband and Jamel’s grandfather, who lived together, each facing charges, including manslaughter and felon in possession of a firearm. The grandpa and grandma got two years in prison. The estranged husband was on probation after agreeing to cooperate with the prosecutor.
All three had previous felony convictions, making it illegal for them to be in possession of a gun, regardless of the manner in which it is stored. While Jamel the parents said the gun should be well protected, they did not agree with a good decision.
“I feel as if it was an accident,” Adrian Tubbs, his mother, said in the beginning of 2014.
Outside of Detroit, no charges were filed in any of the five other Michigan cases investigated by the news organization.
In Ypsilanti Township, 35 miles west of Detroit, prosecutors refused to bring charges in the accidental shooting death of 3-year-old Jamari Moore in November.
Jamari was playing with his younger brother and the 10-year-old son of his mother’s friend in a bedroom. According to the police, the 10-year-old found a loaded and holstered gun on the closet shelf about 5 1/2 feet above the ground — within easy reach of the 5-foot-tall fifth-grader.
The 10-year-old shot Jamari.
“I’m sorry, it was an accident,” reports say that he told the police officer at the scene over and over again, crying.
The 10-year-old father, a concealed pistol license holder, had a history of leaving his loaded firearm in areas that are accessible to children in the house, including an incident that happened two weeks earlier, according to a Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office report.
The sheriff’s office requested a manslaughter indictment against the father, a document shows, but the officers of justice denied because the evidence does not establish gross negligence.
Instead, First Assistant prosecutor Konrad Siller the denial letter stated the state Legislature legislation to indicate how the guns should be stored safely in a house.
Chief Assistant prosecutor Steven Hiller said in an interview: “these cases and the circumstances are all different. … They are all heartbreaking.”
Free Press reporter Gina Damron contributed to this report.