A 7-year-old Virginia boy died Friday, a day after being hit by a stray bullet while awaiting the start of a July 4th fireworks display, authorities said.

Police in Chesterfield County, Va., which borders Richmond, said they believe Brandon Mackey was struck on the top of the head by a bullet fired into the air. They said he was walking with his father in a crowd at Swift Creek Reservoir when he fell, bleeding. He died at a hospital the next day, police said.

The police said that they believe the shot was fired as much as five miles away, with no intent to cause harm. Police are investigating.

The speed of a descending bullet appears to be substantially less than its speed at the point when it leaves t he muzzle of a gun. Air resistance retards the bullet on its descent. However, discussion in medical journalis indicates that gunshots fired into the air may nevertheless cause injury or death.

One study in a journal devoted to trauma identified 118 people who had been hit by spent bullets, with most of them struck in t he head. According to the study, the mortality rate was 32 per cent.