Anthony Senatore never disputed leaving his rifle under his bed, unsecured and loaded.
The New Jersey father pleaded guilty in 2014 to child endangerment after his 4-year-old son accidentally used the gun to shoot and kill Brandon Holt, a 6-year-old neighbor, at Senatore’s Toms River home, according to NJ.com.
More than three years after the shooting, a judge had to do the unthinkable: Determine how much the child’s death was worth monetarily to the people who loved him most — his parents.
The answer: $572,588.26
That’s how much was awarded Monday to Christine and Ronald Holt in a wrongful-death suit the couple brought against their former neighbors, Anthony and Melissa Senatore, according to NJ.com.
The calculation, the site reported, was based on several factors that included the future companionship Brandon would have provided his family, as well as “his pain and suffering before his death and for the family’s unpaid medical and funeral expenses.”
The judgment also included punitive damages, in an amount that hasn’t been determined.
“On April 9, 2013, we had to watch my sweet, beautiful, 6-year-old boy take his last breath,” Christine Holt told a judge during a sentencing hearing in 2015, according to the Asbury Park Press. “We used to imagine what he would be like when he got older and grew up. Now all we can do is imagine what he could have been.”
This week’s court proceeding, NJ.com reported, unfolded in less than two hours and included more wrenching testimony from Brandon Holt’s mother, who recalled encountering her badly injured son; he was gasping for air after being shot, his eyes open, his mouth bleeding, according to NJ.com.
“I was rubbing his legs, telling him to breathe,” Christine Holt said. “I kept telling him I loved him.”
She told him help was coming, she testified.
But Brandon Holt did not survive.
The judge found Anthony Senatore 90 percent responsible for the boy’s death and Melissa Senatore 10 percent responsible, for not being aware of the weapon’s location in their home.
So far in 2016, at least 95 children younger than 18 have picked up a firearm and accidentally shot themselves or someone else, according to data from Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group funded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. The advocacy group, which compiles shooting data using news reports, found that 278 such shootings occurred in 2015.
An Everytown analysis of publicly reported gun deaths from December 2012 to December 2013 found that “at least 100 children were killed in unintentional shootings — almost two each week” during that time — the same period during which Brandon Holt was fatally shot in New Jersey.
“These aren’t accidents,” Everytown says. “They’re preventable. More than two-thirds of these tragedies could be avoided if gun owners stored their guns responsibly and prevented children from accessing them.”
The boys were playing a “pretend shooting” game at the Senatore home when the family’s preschooler fired one shot that struck Brandon Holt in the head from about 15 yards away, according to NJ.com. He was rushed to a hospital, where he died the next day, according to the Asbury Park Press.
During this week’s court appearance, Anthony Senatore testified that he was only 10 feet away when his son fired the fatal shot.
“When the gun went off, I turned around and realized what gun it had been,” Senatore said, according to video published by the Press. “I immediately removed it from his hands and threw it into my garage up on my work bench. With that, I was going back to discipline him when my daughter had came running around the side of the building and said, ‘Dad, dad, Brandon was shot.'”
Senatore’s attorney, Robert Ebberup, told the paper last year that his client — a sportsman who hunts and fishes — had originally removed the rifle from a gun locker after hearing a noise in the middle of the night. Senatore testified that the weapon was wrapped in a towel and loaded at the time, according to the Press.
The gun was under the bed for months.
“He left that gun under his bed for what he thought would be a couple of days, just in case that noise was an intruder trying to come into his house,” Ebberup said. “However, he forgot that it was there — and we know the rest.”
Senatore previously told the Press that he is “not a monster,” but acknowledged that he’ll be haunted by what happened for as long as he lives.
“Each and every one of us have hobbies and other recreational activities that we pursue,” he said. “I am no different than any other person in that respect, but for one horrible mistake, one terrible lapse in judgment, which will define the remainder of my days.”
And yet, the rifle wasn’t the only weapon that was left unsecured in the Senatore home, according to NJ.com.
During a court appearance in 2014, Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said Senatore also kept multiple shotguns in the house, including a Remington 12-gauge and two Harrington & Richardsons. The weapons were placed near ammunition, the prosecutor said, in a household with three children aged 12, 8 and 4.
Senatore was sentenced in February 2015 to serve three years in prison, according to NJ.com. He was released on parole after serving nine months.
Before he was sentenced, Senatore told a judge he accepted his role in Brandon Holt’s death, according to the Press.
“The events of April 8, 2013, have left a permanent mark in the life of two families who could not have imagined that such a horrific event would occur,” he said. “Although I will be sentenced this morning to a term of imprisonment, the torment of these thoughts will occupy me throughout my existence on this earth.”
He added: “Brandon played with my own three children regularly and was a guest in my home on many occasions, including many times for dinner. We considered him part of our family. I cannot begin to fathom the loss of any of my children. Therefore, I cannot imagine the depth of pain and sorrow that Ron and Christine experience on a daily basis.”
Christine Holt attempted to explain her pain in the same hearing last year, according to the Press. Holt said at the time that she was plagued by feelings of guilt.
“I still deal with it every day, that I couldn’t protect him, I couldn’t save him,” she said. “I would have done anything to be able to.”
The judge imposing the prison sentence noted that the shooting dealt a crushing blow to two families.
“Both sides are in great pain and are deeply suffering,” he said, according to the Press.
On Monday, in announcing the judgment, Superior Court Judge Robert E. Brenner scolded Anthony Senatore.
“To leave this rifle under the bed for five or six months, in this court’s mind, is an act of willful or wanton disregard of the rights of another,” the judge said, according to the Press. “There were children in the house.”
Outside the Ocean City Courthouse, after the Holts were awarded $572,588.26, the slain boy’s grandmother, Donna Elefante, declared: “The money is not going to bring Brandon back.”
Asked by a reporter after the ruling if she could forgive Anthony Senatore, Christine Holt shook her head.
“I don’t know if I can answer that,” she said, noting that the ruling was about more than money.
“It’s justice and it’s also awareness,” Brandon Holt’s mother added. “I just want everyone to know — just lock up your guns. Just lock up your guns.”