Ja’Mecca Smith was the youngest of seven children, the baby of the family. She loved tic-tac-toe and the Disney movie “Frozen” and the color red. She was a member of the first grade honor roll, a cheerful little girl with a sense of humor and a gap-toothed smile.
But police say a combination of negligence, a child’s curiosity and cruel circumstance ended her life Saturday, when Ja’Mecca accidentally shot herself in the head with a loaded gun she found tucked between the cushions of a sofa in her father’s home.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, police arrived at Ja’Mecca’s father’s Atlanta apartment Saturday morning to find the 6-year-old dead and her father gone. Authorities said the father, 25-year-old Demarqo Smith, briefly fled the apartment before returning to speak with police.
Smith was arrested Sunday and charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct, according to Fulton County Jail records.
“Right now my life is in shambles,” Kate Milling, Ja’Mecca’s mother, told WALB at a vigil Sunday night. “It’s hard and it hurts. I lost my baby girl and I’m upset.”
Miller was not at the apartment when her daughter died. The Journal Constitution reported that Smith, another adult and at least four other children were present at the time of the shooting.
“He really loved his child and he’s really hurting, too. A piece of him is gone, too,” Yakita Daniels, a friend of Smith’s, told WALB. “It was a harsh accident but it was an honest accident.”
Ja’Mecca is the third Georgia child to be killed in an accidental shooting in the past month. In mid-November, Jackson 2-year-old Jayden Jamar Clay accidentally shot and killed himself with a gun that belonged to his mother’s boyfriend. Less than three weeks before that, another 2-year-old in Acworth, Ga., died after accidentally shooting himself with a semi-automatic handgun that had been left on a bed, police said.
“The fact that a child got a gun isn’t an accident, that’s negligence,” Viviana Goldenberg, a member of the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Clay’s death.
“It’s literally terrifying, and this is happening all over the country,” she continued. “There is no gun owner responsibility. They’re not thinking of what measures to do to prevent access of the children to the gun.”
According to the Centers For Disease Control’s WONDER database, 69 children under the age of 15 died from accidental gunshots in 2013, the last year for which data is available.
But the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety says that its own review of accidental gun deaths revealed a number that was almost twice as high: It found 100 children had been killed in unintentional shootings between December 2012 and December 2013. Most of the deaths took place in a home or vehicle belonging to the victim’s family and involved guns that were legally owned but not secured.
The group said that roughly 70 percent of cases might have been avoided if the gun had been stored locked and unloaded. About 2 million American children live in homes with unsecured guns.
A Washington Post investigation this year found 43 instances where people were shot by 1, 2 and 3-year-olds (not all of them deadly) from January though mid October.
“So-called safe storage laws have nothing to do with safety, they merely serve as a tool for gun control politicians to disarm law-abiding gun owners,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker told the L.A. Times this August, after the Los Angeles City Council passed legislation mandating that handguns be locked up or disabled inside homes.
The details about the gun involved in Ja’Mecca Smith’s death are still unclear.
Family members have set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the 6-year-old’s funeral expenses.
“She was the star that [shined] the brightest,” it said.