A teenage babysitter has been charged with endangering a child after the 5-year-old boy she was supposed to be watching accidentally shot himself with a gun she'd left on a coffee table.
Melissa Ann Ringhardt, 19, of Vidor, Texas, was arrested Tuesday and held in Orange County Jail on the felony charge, for which she could face six months to two years in prison, NBC News reports.
According to authorities, Ringhardt fell asleep in a bedroom while babysiting for 5-year-old John Read and his 6-month-old sibling on Monday afternoon. She had left a .40-caliber handgun on a coffee table, and when she woke up, she discovered the child dead in the living room.
Since the home had no telephone, Ringhardt carried the 5-year-old and the infant to their grandparents’ home to call 911. The boy was declared dead when paramedics arrived. The infant was not injured, Orange County Chief Deputy Sheriff Clint Hodgkinson said.
The boy’s parents, Kayla and Joe Read, are devastated. “For all my family and friends, I lost my little boy today so please keep him in yalls hearts thank you,” Joe Read posted on his Facebook page on Monday.
“They were completely destroyed,” Kevin Clark, a neighbor of the boy’s parents, told 12News.
Ringhardt told authorities she removed the family’s gun from a lockbox because she felt unsafe. “She had the pistol on her throughout that day and had set it down on the coffee table and then went back and took a nap,” Hodgkinson said.
Authorities said Ringhardt has been cooperating with police but is showing no signs of emotion about the incident. “She looks calm at this point. I don’t know if it’s a state of shock or what has got this solemn state on her, but she just seems very calm right now,” Hodgkinson said.
This wasn’t the first accidental shooting involving a young child this past week. A 2-year-old girl was fatally shot in Fayetteville, N.C., over the weekend, CNN reports. The child’s father, Melvin Andre Clark Jr., 19, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
"A child that small, they don't have the strength to pull a trigger with their index finger, but they are strong enough to use pressure from their two thumbs,” Fayetteville police spokesman Lt. Todd Joyce said. "Typically, they'll be looking at the weapon when these things happen."