No criminal charges to be filed after boy accidentally shoots father

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by Tami Hoey

Video report by Marie Saavedra

Posted on June 10, 2013 at 7:22 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 12 at 11:48 AM

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PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. -- It looks like no criminal charges will be filed in the death of a man accidentally shot and killed by his four-year-old son.

It happened Friday, June 7 at a home in Prescott Valley. 34-year-old Justin Thomas had traveled from Phoenix to a friend's home to pick up some things from a duplex where he lived until earlier this year. Thomas had his son with him.

Just moments after walking into the home, the little boy found a loaded semi-automatic handgun, showed it to his dad, then pulled the trigger.

"He keeps a loaded gun for protection. He used to be a military police officer," said neighbor Jeremy Hartt. "But apparently, when Justin and his little boy showed up, within minutes the little boy found the gun and said, Daddy, what's this? Boom. It went off."

Justin Thomas was shot. He later died at the hospital. Authorities are calling it a tragic accident.

Police Sgt. Brandon Bonney said Monday that it didn't appear that the home's tenant, 26 year old James Williams, had any idea that Thomas and his son would be visiting, or had enough time to secure the weapon before they arrived. No children lived in the house.

"He really wasn't in a position to know they were there or to go and secure his gun," Bonney said. "With this person, living by himself, there wasn't necessarily any legal requirement to keep that weapon locked away."

The little boy is now with his mother. "He didn't really know what was going on," said neighbors. "He was just a happy little boy."

The Prescott Daily Courier reported that Thomas was an Army special forces veteran who served in Iraq.

The case has raised questions about how weapons should be stored in a home even when children aren't present. Firearms experts say gun owners have a certain responsibility for their weapons but aren't required to lock them up at all times.

Larry Kolontar, owner of Common Sense Firearms Training in Des Moines, Iowa, said the issue isn't about whether children are present inside the home, but instead is about control of your weapon at all times.

"If it's not on you or in a secured location, out of reach and hidden, it needs to be locked up," said Kolontar, who teaches firearms safety. "This is a very sad, horrible situation, but it's one of those things that could have been avoided if the owner would have taken a little more responsibility and secured the weapon."

Jon Abel, lead instructor and owner of Phoenix Firearms Training, said children also need to be taught at an early age not to point guns at people or avoid handling them altogether, in the same way they're taught to not play with knives or to avoid a hot stove.

"Talk about it, demystify it," he said.

The Associated Press Contributed to this report

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