Four-year-old Tahirah Phillips was watching TV and playing with her six siblings on Saturday afternoon in a bedroom in their Philadelphia home when, police said, a single gunshot brought shrill screams and tears.

Tahirah had been shot in the head — and her father, police said, had pulled the trigger.

Her siblings started yelling. Then her father, Maurice Phillips, stood up from the bed and walked toward them.

Phillips “struck his 5-year-old daughter with a closed fist then wiped the blood from his hand onto her shirt,” police said Monday in a statement. “He then picked up Tahirah and carried her into the rear bedroom, called his fiancé and told her to come home.

AD

“When she arrived, he followed her to the bedroom where Tahirah was lying.”

That’s where Tahirah died.

Phillips, 30, has been charged with third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child, among other charges. Police told CBS Philly that Phillips admitted he was messing around with a semiautomatic handgun on Saturday when it accidentally went off — and a bullet struck his daughter.

AD

“It’s a stupid, idiotic act,” homicide Capt. James Clark said, according to Philly.com. “It was completely reckless.”

Clark told reporters that Phillips had walked into the room, removed his gun from its holster and started “carelessly and recklessly” waving it around, according to the Associated Press.

AD

The gun went off, Clark said, and the bullet hit Tahirah in the back of the head.

Police said that about 2:30 p.m. Saturday officers responded to the home in Kensington, a rough neighborhood in Philadelphia, and found the 4-year-old lying on the floor.

Phillips had fled the scene.

Police said he turned himself in later that night — first denying the allegations, claiming that the girl had been shot by her 5-year-old sibling.

“He went as far as to punish the 5-year-old to show how much he felt that she did this,” Clark said, according to the AP.

AD

Phillips later “admitted to accidentally shooting the victim, and stated that the sibling had nothing to do with it,” Sgt. Eric Gripp told CBS Philly.

AD

Neighbors in the Kensington community were still reeling from the incident as investigators worked to determine what had happened.

“Everybody’s hearing different stories, and nobody knows what the truth is — only what happened,” Rachel Santana, a neighbor, told ABC affiliate WPVI.

They said the girl’s mother was highly protective, allowing her children to play outside only in the back yard for fear of crime in Kensington, a neighborhood once described by CBS Philly as “one of the toughest” in the city.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you bring the kids out?’ ” a neighbor, Louise Sawyer, said she once asked the girl’s mother. Sawyer told WPVI that the mother responded: ” ‘No I’m not bringing these kids out here with all this trouble.’ ”

AD
AD

Neighbors said the mother was devastated by Saturday’s shooting.

“She was basically in shock,” Santana told WPVI. “She kept saying, ‘My baby, my baby,’ and ‘Oh my God, how’d that happen? I don’t understand. My baby.’ ”

But Santana said she wasn’t surprised that the family had a gun.

“Some people know that it’s wrong, but we live in such a bad society, especially here,” she told the news station. “It’s really bad around here. People feel that they need to protect themselves at all costs.

“It was just a tragic accident that happened.”

Across the United States in recent years, there have been numerous reports of incidents in which children were either behind accidental fatal shootings or were the victims of such shootings.

AD

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there were 591 accidental gun deaths in 2011, and Jon S. Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told The Washington Post in 2014 that 102 of the victims were younger than 18.

AD

Seventy-four were younger than 15, according to the CDC data.

It was unclear Tuesday whether Phillips had an attorney. He is scheduled to appear in court next month.

Police said Tahirah lived with her mother, father and siblings, who range in age from seven months to 13.

“She was full of life,” Crystal Dougherty, a family friend, told NBC Philadelphia. “She was always willing to help. She was a great big sister to her little brother.”

This story has been updated.

MORE READING:

AD
AD