The pistol lay on the bedroom nightstand loaded and untouched. And then it was in the 3-year-old’s hands, pointed toward his older sister.
A moment later, Kimberly Reylander was on the floor, bleeding from a wound to her head, after her younger brother accidentally shot her, Irondale, Ala., police said. The adults rushed into the room.
“Her grandma was laying the towel on her head and laid down there and started praying, she was praying, I was praying, my wife was screaming and praying. Nobody knows how that feels until you experience it,” the girl’s grandfather, Joel Watson, told WIAT.
The 9-year-old girl was flown to Children’s of Alabama hospital Saturday, where she died of her injuries, according to AL.com.
Irondale Police Chief Ken Atkinson told AL.com and WIAT that the children’s great-grandfather had left the loaded pistol on his nightstand Saturday morning, not knowing that the children were coming over. He wasn’t home at the time of the shooting, but the children’s grandmother and uncle — whom police detectives are now interviewing — were, though they didn’t know there was a gun in the room where the children were playing.
“It appears to be a tragic accident,” Atkinson said.
Local TV station WBRC reported it doesn’t seem that any charges will be filed, citing Irondale police.
Shootings by toddlers are tragically common. A Washington Post survey in the fall found 43 instances in the first 10 months of 2015 in which someone had been shot by a child age 3 or younger. Of the 15 shootings that were fatal, 13 of them involved the toddlers inadvertently killing themselves.
So far this year, at least four toddlers have accidentally fired a gun at themselves; one of them died from his injuries.
Kimberly is the fifth person to be hurt in an accidental shooting by a toddler since Jan. 1.
“Still in disbelief,” her maternal grandfather, Rodney Watson, told WBRC. “You know, I’ve always had this thought that this could only happen to someone else. You know you only hear about these things. But when it hits home, it’s hard.”
He described Kimberly — or “Kimi,” as many in her family knew her — as a “precious angel.”
“She was a beautiful child, straight-A student, she loved God, she loved singing at church,” he said.
The third-grader had thoughtful eyes and a Mona Lisa half-smile in her most recent school photo. Her obituary describes her as “Mommy and Daddy’s little angel” and a gifted artist and singer.
“She makes these clay figurines,” her great-aunt Christy Watson told AL.com, holding up a tiny angel. The figure was about as big as the first knuckle of an adult’s thumb, nimbly made with wavy, brown hair and tiny, white wings.
In a statement posted online Sunday, Kimberly’s school mourned the girl who had been “a wonderfully bright and cheery presence,” saying that she “will be sorely missed.”
Police received a 911 call about the shooting about 2:10 p.m. Saturday, AL.com reported. The dead-end road where the family lived was blocked by police and emergency response vehicles Saturday. And the incident left their neighbors reeling.
Chrissy Coblentz, who said she lives next door to the children’s great-grandparents, set up a crowdfunding page to help pay for the girl’s funeral expenses.
“My children played with Kimi in our and her backyard every weekend, rode the same school bus, and celebrated birthday’s together, she wrote. “We are shocked at this loss of this young life.”
The little girl’s funeral will be held this week. Her death is still under investigation, Atkinson told AL.com, adding a warning for owners of guns:
“The lesson is you have to make sure those weapons are put up, out of sight and out of reach, really of anyone, but especially children,” he said. “It is tragic because this 3-year-old has no idea what is going on right now. It is just a horrible situation.”