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Mother charged after 2-year-old finds gun, fatally shoots his father

Florida sheriff says gun owners could ‘100 percent’ prevent unintentional shootings by locking up their guns

A Florida toddler found a Glock 9mm handgun, like the one pictured, and fatally shot his father with it on May 26, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. The child’s mother is facing charges. (Luke Sharrett for The Washington Post)
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Marie Ayala was spending time with her family in their Orlando home late last month when she heard “a loud pop” — a gunshot, investigators said. The 28-year-old mother of three soon found herself doing chest compressions to try to save her dying husband.

Their 5-year-old son later identified the shooter, according to court records: his 2-year-old brother.

Ayala has been charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence and possession of a firearm by a felon, authorities announced Monday. Investigators with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office allege that Ayala negligently created a situation in which her toddler could get his hands on a gun and accidentally kill his father, 26-year-old Reggie Mabry. Ayala faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of manslaughter in the May 26 shooting.

“Now these young children have effectively lost both of their parents. Their father is dead. Their mother is in jail, and a young child has to live their life knowing that he shot his father,” Orange County Sheriff John Mina said Monday at a news conference.

The public defender’s office representing Ayala did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post late Monday. Ayala was locked up in an Orange County correctional facility as of Tuesday morning, records show.

Guns killed more young people than cars did for the first time in 2020

The shooting occurs amid a national debate about ways to reduce gun violence after multiple mass shootings, including one in which a gunman fatally shot 19 schoolchildren at a Texas elementary school on May 24. Gun violence has become the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 19, The Washington Post reported last month.

Last year, 163 people were killed by children in 392 unintentional shootings across the country, according to the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

“Every year, hundreds of children in the United States gain access to unsecured, loaded guns in closets and nightstand drawers, in backpacks and purses, or just left out. With tragic regularity, children find these unsecured guns and unintentionally shoot themself or someone else,” according to Everytown’s 2021 report “Preventable Tragedies.”

A mother smoked marijuana in the front seat, sheriff says. In the back, her 4-year-old found a gun and shot himself.

Mina used similar language at Monday’s news conference to describe Mabry’s death. “These tragedies are 100 percent preventable,” the sheriff said, with his office adding that Florida law requires gun owners to secure their firearms in locked containers or with trigger locks if children under 16 can access them.

“I can’t emphasize strongly enough that our guns need to be secured and kept out of the hands and away from children at all times,” Mina said. “Gun owners that do not properly secure their firearms are just one split second away from one of these tragedies happening in their homes.”

Orange County Sheriff John Mina said June 6 that Marie Ayala was arrested after her 2-year-old boy found a gun and fatally shot his father. (Video: Orange County Sheriff's Office)

President Biden last week called for stronger background checks to prevent felons from getting firearms. He also pressed for safe-storage laws that would hold people responsible if they fail to lock up their guns.

“If you own a weapon, you have a responsibility to secure it … to lock it up, to have trigger locks,” the president said. “And if you don’t, and something bad happens, you should be held responsible.”

Neither Ayala nor her husband should have had a gun; both were barred from possessing firearms since they were on probation, one of Mina’s detectives said in an affidavit for Ayala’s arrest.

The affidavit provides a narrative of what investigators believe led to Mabry’s death on May 26. Around noon that day, deputies responded to a 911 call about a shooting at a house in east Orlando, the affidavit states. When they arrived at the cul-de-sac where Mabry and his family rented a room, deputies found Ayala performing CPR on her husband.

Ayala told investigators the family of five had been hanging out that morning, the affidavit said. Mabry was playing video games on a computer, while Ayala and their 6-month-old baby were on one mattress and their 5-year-old boy was on another bed. Her 2-year-old son “was moving around the room.”

Then, the gunshot.

Ayala saw the toddler come “from the area of the gunfire,” according to the affidavit. She said she “disarmed the gun” before tending to her husband, who had been hit in the back. The 5-year-old told her that his younger brother had “shot Papi” but couldn’t explain how he got the gun, the affidavit states.

When Ayala spoke with investigators about where and how the gun was stored, her “answers changed frequently,” investigators wrote. At various times during her interview with detectives, she said Mabry stored it in a bag on the floor, a box in the closet, a safe and “under a pillow or something,” according to the affidavit. Mabry had been trying to sell the gun in the two weeks before the shooting to get money needed for a traffic ticket he’d gotten in Georgia, she told them.

The gun belonged to Mabry, Ayala told investigators, according to the affidavit, although she said she knew about it. She also acknowledged that since she was on probation after being convicted in 2016 of felony theft, she was prohibited from having a firearm.

Mabry shouldn’t have had one, either, the sheriff’s office said. Both parents were on probation for child neglect and drug possession, something Ayala told investigators after the shooting, the affidavit said. When a detective pressed Ayala on her probation status, she allegedly told the investigators that she had urged her husband to get rid of the gun.

But he didn’t, the affidavit states. As paramedics tried to save Mabry, law enforcement found the Glock semiautomatic pistol on a mattress. They also found three Glock 9mm magazines: two on the floor and a third in the closet — in a child’s car seat next to a box of cookies and a diaper.

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