Manal Jr. was sitting on a stool beside his father at the store on Sunday when he found a handgun stored on a shelf beneath the cash register. The 3-year-old accidentally shot himself and died shortly after.
It is illegal in North Carolina to have an unsecured gun in the presence of a child, according to the Associated Press. Authorities in Lumberton, a small city 100 miles south of Raleigh, are investigating the incident and the Robeson County district attorney’s office will decide whether to file charges.
Lumberton Police Capt. Terry Parker urged gun owners to keep their weapons secure.
“Make sure it’s where the child cannot have access to it,” he told WTVD on Monday. “Kids are going to be naturally curious about firearms. Kids, they need to learn gun safety but at the same time we as adults have got to protect the kids to the best of our ability.”
Parker told WTVD that Abdelaziz Sr. was standing beside his son at the time of the shooting, rolling coins and talking to a customer. He took his eyes off his son for “just a moment,” Parker said.
“All we heard was something happening and I looked and, oh my, God, my son is on the floor,” Abdelaziz told WMBF. He immediately called 911.
It is unclear whether Manal Jr., who has also been identified as Munoz or Munal in various outlets, died at the scene or en route to the hospital. He was declared dead at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Lumberton, according to the Associated Press.
Adia Peguise, who is in training at the store and used to babysit for Manal Jr., told WMBF that the gun was hers. She kept it for security reasons, she said, but it wasn’t usually stored in the easy-to-reach spot beneath the cash register.
“I met Cash this summer when the store first opened and he ran up to me and jumped into my arms and wouldn’t let me go and I fell in love with him,” she said.
On Saturday night, she’d comforted Manal Jr. while he suffered from an earache. He asked for her Sunday morning, and she woke up to a voice mail asking when she’d be at the store, she said.
“By the time I called him back,” she told WMBF, “he was gone.”