Accidental shooting: No charges filed in Crozet girl's death

Maggie Hollifield's obituary describes a camp-loving 10-year-old who died from a "tragic accident" in her Crozet home. Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford agrees and will not seek indictments against the girl's 13-year-old brother nor her parents for the fatal May 21 shooting.

Maggie's father, Paul Hollifield, pastor at Commonwealth Christian Community, which operates Victory Hill Church of God After School Care, and his wife Anne had left their four children home that Tuesday morning to attend to business. That was not unusual for the home-schooled children, who ranged in ages from 9- to 15-years-old, according to a June 13 letter from Lunsford to Steve Sellers, Albemarle police chief, detailing what happened.

The night before, the brother had cleaned and taken apart his shotgun in the living room. The gun had been given to him by a relative and was not working properly, says the prosecutor's letter.

The next morning, he was making a modification to the gun and had taken out the shells but forgot one in the chamber. In cycling shells through the gun to make sure it was working, the firearm discharged and struck Maggie, who was standing behind a love seat upon which their 9-year-old sibling was sitting.

"The 13-year-old did not recall pulling the trigger but acknowledged that his hand would have been near the trigger at the time," writes Lunsford.

The brother and older sister ran to a neighbor's house, where the neighbor called 911 and the children called their mother.

Paul Hollifield told the police that his son normally was very cautious about the gun and that he trusted his son, who had taken a hunter's safety course, with the weapon.

There were no conflicts between the siblings, reports Lunsford, and Hollifield describes his son as "tender-hearted." Lunsford determined that the shooting was accidental, and there was no probable cause for charging the teen with involuntary manslaughter.

She also determined that there was insufficient evidence to charge the parents with neglect or abuse of the children, or of recklessly leaving a firearm unsecured.

The children were interviewed in the presence of a parent, she notes, and the questioning was conducted "with sensitivity" to the young ages of the primary witnesses.

The death of Maggie, concludes Lunsford, was "a tragic accident."

In another recent shooting by a 13-year-old, a Chesterfield boy brought a pistol to a friend's house June 13, accidentally discharged it, and struck a 13-year-old girl in the leg, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The boy has been charged with reckless handing of a firearm, discharging a weapon within a residence and possession of a firearm by a juvenile.

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38 comments

This is heartbreaking. This entire family will suffer needlessly for the manslaughter this boy committed. I say needlessly because the parents did not need to give their 13-year-old child a gun. It is fine with me if they don't file charges against the child. But I wish it were possible to file charges against the parents--for what, I don't know. For whatever they possibly could, I suppose. Why would they ever, despite the child's "gun safety class," allow him to do anything at all with his gun outside their presence? Or in the presence of the other children? Pointing the gun at them, however inadvertently? That is a 13-year-old's mistake. Other, older people might make that mistake too. But this entire thing could have been avoided if the parents used a little sense. I am sad and angry about this turn of events. I hope they have learned their lesson. My opinion, by the way, has little to do with gun control laws, and more to do with the laws governing minors and parents' responsibility for them. They are grieving, deeply. And they should also be ashamed of themselves.

Amy,
This family IS suffering. These parents loved their daughter (you didn't), and they also love their son (you don't). This was an accident, look the word up if you are unsure of its meaning. Your hurtful words (ie "used a little sense" or "hope they learned their lesson") are intentional, so I think it is YOU who should be "ashamed" of yourself.

I'm sorry. I see the ways in which I was insensitive. Of course they are grieving. Of course they love their children. Of course they regret the circumstances. I know it was an accident; that's what "inadvertently" refers to. I should take my campaign against children's having access to guns and risking such accidents to another forum. End of discussion.

UNfortunately 'Ya think' you are NOT THINKING.

It is lovely to have kindness for the family that is grieving, but FOR THE MANY FUTURE CHILDREN, the public must be ENCOURAGED to discuss the facts of the case, relevant to how Virginia's laws may be changed to protect THE MANY FUTURE CHILDREN.

While it is lovely to try to protect the grieving family, it is UN-lovely to criticize the public for wrestling with difficult issues of public policy.

Saying that, we see that in another jurisidiction in Virginia - Henrico - that Commonwealth's Attorney DID FIND CHARGES that apply:
"discharging a weapon within a residence and possession of a firearm by a juvenile"

Appropriate public policy question: WHY in Albemarle did the Commonwealth's Attorney NOT FIND those charges in an apparently very similar set of facts?

God-Fearer, excellent question and points. Most likely, Ms. Lunsford decided tha this family had suffered enough, while the other prosecutor, dealing with a less tragic situation, didn't not achieve that calculus.

Prosecution isn't based on whether or not someone "suffered enough." It's based on whether or not there is criminal liability. The prosecutor's decision in this case indicates that the office felt this was an accident, not negligence or anything else criminal.

Anyone who keeps guns in his or her home is statistically more likely to end up with an accidental shooting like this. I know people like to think that statistics apply to everyone else, but that's not how it works. By having guns in your home, you're wading into the pool of people who are more likely to get accidentally shot to death. And you are bringing your children into that pool with you.

FURTHER, public health evidence shows strong association between access to firearms and suicide violence (including killing self, and killing self and others in 'murder-suicide')

"Ya think," I remain apologetic for pointing out the family's culpability during such a difficult time. But as you'll see from the comments that followed ours, newspapers are the correct forum for discussing complicated moral and legal issues, which this case raises. Newspapers are the "fourth estate," which you may not realize means they serve as the watchdog for the three official estates: the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. Yes, this is a local newspaper. But it is not a funeral home online tribute book. Gun safety is something we must talk about. And cases like this are precisely why. It may well hit the national news--that is how perfect an example it is. Family guidance is not enough. Gun safety programs are obviously not enough. That gun should have been locked up, with the ammunition in a separate location. That child--ony 13 years old and with his own gun!--should check the weapon to see if it's loaded every time he he picks it up. He should have been cleaning it from the back instead of from the barrel. And he should not have pointed it at anyone, ever; I'm not saying he purposefully pointed it at his siblings, and I doubt that. So how about looking to a legacy in which children are protected from their own desires (whether guns, sportscars, alcohol and drugs, unsupervised parties, etc.); prosecution follows precedent; and parents are accountable.

Amy,
I thought you were out of here???
More kids die from bike accidents than fire arms. There are more fatalities of children on jungle gyms than fire arms in the home. It was an accident, accidents happen. The only way to prevent fatal accidents is to regulate all children into straight jackets.

i am not even going to begin to try to straighten out the spaghetti coils of tangled logical fallacies up there, but i will say that a bicycle in the room is not going to put the other occupants at risk of death if a child decides to clean it.

@comment...no, only when he decides to ride it.

i was curious

in 2011: 677 bicycle deaths total (children and adults; source National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
in 2011: 30,470 deaths by gun (children and adults; includes homicides and suicides only, not accidents; source: centers for disease control

this article
http://www.kidsgrowth.com/resources/articledetail.cfm?id=234
states that in any given day, 10 children die from firearms accidents and 2 die from bicycle accidents

@ WhoaNelly, When a child rides his bike it puts others at risk of death? Thats the best you got?

@ I dDont Know For Sure...try to defend yourself with a bike.

@ comment... The website you picked seems to have a certain agenda...roughly 3,500 kids a year die from accidental fire arms? That's statement holds about much water as Nancy Pelosi saying "If we dont pass this stimulas, 500 million people will loose their jobs" She must have been talking about all of the US and Canada...lol

Unintentional Gun Deaths Chart
In the United States, annual unintentional shooting deaths total

2011: 851
2010: 606
2009: 554
2008: 592
2007: 613
2006: 642
2005: 789
2004: 649
2003: 730
2002: 762
2001: 802
2000: 776
1999: 824

That's 2.39 per day, children are a fraction of that....

A few more interesting statistic;
In 1996 Australia implemented a gun elimination program. The Australia government aggressively seized more than 640,000 guns from law abiding Australian citizens.
In the two years following this gun grab, armed robberies rose by 73%, kidnappings by 38%, physical assaults by 17% and manslaughter by 29%.

Australia now ranks #1 in violent crimes among industrialized nations. England, who also abolished all of its private gun ownership, now ranks #2.

According to Florida State University criminologist, Gary Kleck, U>S> citizens use their guns to defend themselves from criminals at least one million times a year. And in approximately98% of the cases, no shots are ever fired and the criminals flee at the mere sight of the citizen’s gun. Citizens have had to shoot their attackers in only 2% of these cases and in only 1% of these cases do the attackers manage to take guns away from their intended victims. Women are also 250 times more likely to fend off an attacker if they are armed as opposed to being unarmed. Clearly, guns save many lives each year

Changed my mind, Whoa Nelly. And yes, straight jackets seem like a good idea to me, at least for certain people's children.

I didn't have any particular agenda -- just was curious to find data after reading the posts, did a quick search and put in statistics from the national highway traffic safety administration (presumably neutral) and the CDC (also presumably neutral)

Added the article link because it had so many comparisons in one place

I wanted to know the data on whether firearms caused more fatalities than bikes; have not yet looked up jungle gyms to see that fatality data in comparison

BUT, if a parent told a 13 yr old child 'go out and ride your bike in the median of the four lane highway, since you've taken a biking safety course, and you're wearing a helmet', and the child was killed or injured by a vehicle - or perhaps killed or injured and caused multiple car accident that killed or injured others (which obviously could happen), wouldn't you hold the parents of the child accountable in some way? wouldn't you expect some formal concern to be raised about the child rearing, the 'good judgement' of the parents, or at least the supervision plan of the parents over the child? And, wouldn't you expect the possibility of civil litigation from the others injured or harmed?

god-fearer, of course...yes to all of your questions. But the state can not punish this boy, this boy who I am sure loved his sister, any furthur than how he will pinish himself for the rest of his life. The pain this family will endure will not heal for a very long time, if it heals at all.

I suppose race & class play no role when deciding who gets charged when these horrible & preventable incidents happen... Accidents cannot be avoided, this could.
This mother was charged with 2nd degree murder for the self inflicted wound of her 5 year old daughter.

This family runs a daycare?

http://www.chron.com/technology/businessinsider/article/5-Year-Old-Girl-...

IN FACT, SAD TO SAY,
we believe that strong evidence shows that across society, including local society, White and non-White family matters are treated dis-similarly:

the White family's 'accident' is the non-White family's 'negligent parenting';

the White young man's failure to follow safety practices is the non-White young man's delinquency or criminal misconduct (including possible jail time, probation dependent on compliance with court-ordered conditions, etc);

sympathy for the White family rises more immediately and lasts longer than sympathy for the non-White family's sorrow (since 'they' just don't have the same regard for life as we do, do they?, or countless other inhumane racial or cultural stereotypes)

...

Parents with guns...sorry, I just had to say that leaving a 5 yr old home alone is a different world than leaving your children with a 15 yr old in the house. My girls at 15 (after taking a baby sitting class with the Red Cross) could be trusted to baby sit for neighbors. Leaving a 5 yr old home alone I would guess is illegal in most states...or at least it should be.

Actually, what’s sad to say G-F, is that negligence is more prevalent in one parent households with multiple children. Obviously, four eyes are better than one, and 2 incomes can better support a family. That’s not to say that single parents are neglectful. But, it certainly is more difficult to raise children without a partner.

What’s sad to say is that as a result of 40 years of social programs, 68% of black family's are single parent. There were a much larger percentage of black 2 parent households before welfare became law. A good friend of mine who happens to be black, has told me that he believes that social programs have destroyed the nucleus of black family’s in America. Who is to blame for that? It’s difficult to say. How to fix it is even more difficult to do. But to solely blame white racism as you’ve done in your post is only telling half the story.

AH, but,

we 'solely blame' no one or thing, since we believe and perceive that most social circumstance are shaped by many different social forces and social factors.

And,
isn't it the case that social services programs are aimed at POOR families, not merely BLACK families?

So, among the multiple social forces contributing to the decline of stable two-parent/two-guardian/multi-parent/multi-guardian families we'd need to cite all the many things that help sustain poverty:
discrimination in hiring and promoting into work,
lack of access to safe convenient public transportation to work,
lack of access to effective convenient health care services focused on family needs,
lack of stable resources for child care/early learning
etc

One might endorse the model of 'one parent/guardian works' and 'one parent/guardian' stays at home with kids. But to sustain that model we need to cite further social forces:
- lack of wage growth (over past 20-30 years)
- movement of industries that pay well off shore (creating low-wage, no-wage growth workplaces, while giving tremendous tax advantages and creating wealth for the privileged)
etc

And, if were to assess if White or non-White folks, we'd certainly have to say that many more White folks have benefited from the perverse system of social forces that sustain poverty; not all but among them the many White privileged folks (including very many so-called 'progressives', or 'liberals' working in tenured, highly-paid positions at UVA, etc, who seem very happy with privileges and perks, while not challenging systems that poorly pay and sustain bullying of their lesser privileged staff: see Piff's research: the privileged act out their 'entitltment' demeaning and harming others regardless of how they 'identify' their politics)

So, we'll argue that social services system that are to help the poor, may sustain poverty - and need re-design - but there are many many MANY other social forces to discuss and correct.

Amy & God-fearer (my God deserves a capital letter, even if yours doesn't),
It is interesting to me that you both think you know more about this case, and the law in general than the commonwealth's attorney. It must feel great to be so morally and intellectually superior to the rest of us! (sarcasm alert)

Beyond the heartlessness displayed by some of the more rigid personalities on this thread, these dreams of a mandated gunless society can be seen in present-day Chicago.

What happened to this family is heartbreaking. The heartbreak is compounded by the narcissism of those that would step all over a family's grief in order to push an agenda that's already proving murderous in the aforementioned Windy City.

> " I hope they have learned their lesson."

Should anyone ever decide you're worth procreating with, I hope you never lose a child.

PARDON,
but we are discussion a GENERAL issue of public safety, not justice in a particular case.

If no one can discuss public policy about any particular case, then why did American discuss Homeland Security after thousands died in the Twin Towers? Was that 'rigid'? 'heartless'? 'narcissistic'?

How about public discussion of security for Presidents after Kennedy and Reagan were shot? Was that 'heartless'?

When I was a child another little child was drowned in a private - but open to the public - swimming pool. Was it 'narcissistic' or 'heartless' for the community to discuss needs for safety regulations and other measures in swimming pools after that dear one was drowned?

And, btw, you are taking other people's concerns for public safety THAT HAVE NOT MENTIONED AT ALL what you claim - "mandating a gunless society' - since that is certainly not our view! - to create a STRAW MAN to shoot down. WOW! That is not ony 'pants on fire' truth check, but 'bearing false witness'. Bearing false witness against your neighbors in t e blog to make your own political points, IS not only an offense against Yahweh's law, but truly a heartless comodification of the entire situation. Commodification?! Yes, raising up straw men, by bearing false witness, is a key and apparently very effective FUND-RAISING STRATEGY of NRA and other gun radical groups. Commodifying death?: Now that is really a pretty testimonial to a grieving family isn't it?

> Was it 'narcissistic' or 'heartless' for the community to discuss

No. Your narcissism is quite enough without dragging everyone else into it.

PARDON, but a broad community of persons is ALREADY INVOLVED.

Public safety (including proper attribution of moral and legal accountability for death) and public health (including proper protection of individuals from violence and violent wounding and violent death) are ALREADY INVOLVED.

You argument is that
- we should not have discussed National Security after the attack on 9/11

- we should not have discussed security for our Presidents after shootings of Kennedy and Reagan

- we should not have discussed regulations for local swimming pools after a child drowned in the pool

That is, prima facie, ridiculous.

Too bad that the prosecutor decided to bow to VA's pro-gun agenda. I am amazed that leaving children home with a gun, later used to shoot and kill one of the kids, out in the living room is not at least neglect. However, as the police kept this incident very hush-hush from the beginning, this is also not a terribly surprising outcome. It is a terrible tragedy, ultimately, that this family's apparent love for guns eventually cost them one of their children.

If these parents still have custody of their surviving children, I hope they have at least learned something so that their other kids don't meet the same fate as Maggie. Given the response of other pro-gun people on this thread, I'm not optimistic about that.

Lauren: Your response is so heartless and pointlessly inflammatory that I'm going to assume, charitably, that you are just trolling the readers here and do not actually believe the things you just wrote. If you do believe them, please seek professional help.

Sharrin,
Thanks for your post. Spot on.

The fact that the shooting was an accident does not mean there was no neglect. In fact, there WAS neglect, on the part of the parents, which is why they grieve so much. They say to themselves, "if ONLY. . ." But, alas, they believed their youngster was well enough acquainted with weapons to avoid an accident.

This is a situation in which the CONSEQUENCES outweigh the CHANCES. But this calculus was, evidently, not in the minds of the parents. They shall, forever, terribly regret the error. An action by the CA to etch in justice what everyone fully knows is frivolous. There is no point in it. Should we expect that a charge of manslaughter shall persuade others to be more careful? Or may we refer to the tragic reality as enough of an incentive to keep others from repeating the same mistake? The latter, I think.

Speaking as one who grew up with guns, owns guns, teaches firearm self-defense, directed a pediatric trauma rehabilitation program and practices and teaches child psychology, I shall declare herein that a 13 year old boy should NOT have independent access to a firearm any more than he should have independent access to the keys to a motorcycle. OF COURSE his parents were negligent, and they paid the ultimate price. Grief and love are NOT the issue here.

"But, alas, they believed..."
"They shall, forever, terribly regret the error"
"I shall declare herein..."

It appears we've been invaded by mid-19th century commenters who feel it appropriate to use a family's private tragedy to advance their personal political cause. Accordingly, I do declare herein, that such anachronistic formality of speech implies a craven dearth of sympathies for the departed, et fils, unbecoming of the modern liberal.

Bobby: You miss entirely the context of an objective discussion forum.