At first, Jose Gonzalez didn't believe the gun in his 14-year-old brother's hands was real. But as he watched his big brother load it with a single bullet, spin the rusty cylinder and point the weapon at his own head, he got worried and warned him to be careful.

"Look what I can do," Jose, 12, recalled his brother, Eduardo "Eddie" Medrano, telling him and a 12-year-old friend in the living room of their family's Annandale area apartment. "It went like click, and nothing happened. He was taking it away from his head and his hand got stuck."

Then the room seemed to explode, Jose said.

As he stood in a hallway of their apartment building yesterday and recounted how he watched his brother accidentally kill himself Thursday morning, Jose kept his composure. But that all changed when a Fairfax County homicide investigator showed up at the door, carrying a brown paper bag with Eddie's things.

Picking through his brother's blood-spattered clothing, Jose retrieved Eddie's crucifix, dangling on the end of a beaded necklace. Clutching it to his chest, Jose walked over to a railing, leaned his head on his hands and quietly sobbed.

"He's in denial," his 22-year-old sister, Neomi Gonzalez, had said just minutes earlier. "He's trying to do other things, so he won't think about what happened."

Fairfax police are trying to figure out how it happened -- how a .38-caliber handgun landed in the hands of a child. Law enforcement sources said police believe that Eddie may have bought the gun from another youth in the last week. They also are exploring the possibility that the old, rusty gun previously was stolen in a burglary.

His brother and sister said that before Thursday, they did not know Eddie had a gun and that they believe he might have gotten it the night before he shot himself, when he was out with some friends.

"He had a temper, but he had a good heart," said Neomi Gonzalez, a Hecht's salesclerk. "He would always listen to his mom and stuff. Those two would fight," she said of her brothers. "But when my little brother got bullied around, {Eddie} always stuck up for him."

Jose recounted the last morning with his only brother out of earshot of their mother, who was sitting on the couch where her son had shot himself the day before. Their mother did not want to be interviewed yesterday, but allowed her children to talk with a reporter.

"She doesn't want to eat anything," Neomi Gonzalez said of her mother, who didn't want to give her name. "She's crying all the time."

The shooting at Fairmont Gardens, a sprawling complex of three-story apartment buildings near Little River Turnpike, occurred on the first day of summer vacation for Eddie and Jose.

Eddie had been expelled from Poe Middle School, his little brother said, over comments the 14-year-old had made about a knife.

School officials "said he told one of his friends to bring a knife to school," Jose said. "He said he was lying, but they said it was too late," and expelled him.

So Eddie had been attending the Area II Alternative Learning Center and was heading for high school next year, Jose said.

On the first day of summer vacation Thursday, Eddie flipped on the family stereo and asked Jose and his friend if they liked the music.

That's when Eddie pulled the gun out of his waistband and showed it to the boys, Jose said. "I said, That's not a real gun.' " But Eddie insisted it was, and assured his younger brother, "I know how to handle it."

Warning him to be careful, that he could get hurt, the boys watched Eddie load it with three bullets, spin the cylinder and then take them out again.

Jose said he began to get worried when his brother reloaded it with a single bullet, pointed it at his own head and pulled the trigger. But even when the gun went off, for a moment Jose clung to the thought that his brother was just playing around.

"He blinked his eyes, and his head went sideways," Jose said. "The first time I saw blood, I called 911."

When no one answered after four rings, Jose hung up and tried again. This time a voice came on the line, although it was hard to hear because of the ringing in his ears, he said.

While Jose waited for help to arrive, he watched his brother turn blue, then purple. He wasn't saying anything. He was bleeding a lot.

Jose's brother was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he died several hours later, with family members at his side.

As Jose clung to the rosary and his memories yesterday, three of his brother's former girlfriends arrived together to offer condolences. They said their friend was a "good kid" who made a fatal mistake.

"I think he was just trying to show off the gun and something happened," said Fatimah Sindi, 14. "He would tell me how he didn't like to watch Bambi' because it makes him sad." CAPTION: Eduardo Medrano, 14, died of an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot.