When the 4-year-old slipped her hand into her grandmother’s purse, she was searching for something sweet, her father told the Tampa Bay Times.
Shane Zoller told the newspaper that his daughter, Yanelly, was looking for candy while visiting her grandparents last week in North Tampa, Fla. Instead, she found a handgun, then accidentally shot and killed herself, Zoller said.
“I was driving to pick her up with her bathing suit in my car to take her to the splash pads,” Zoller told the Times. “When I pulled up, that’s when I saw all the police lights.”
Authorities confirmed that the child, called “Nelly,” found a firearm at the home in Tampa on Sept. 14 and shot herself.
Her grandparents, Michael and Christie Zoller, were both home at the time, authorities said. A Tampa police spokesman told The Washington Post on Thursday that it appears the shooting was accidental, but authorities are still investigating.
“She just wanted some damn candy,” Shane Zoller told the Times on Wednesday, the day before his daughter’s funeral.
The Hillsborough County medical examiner’s office said Yanelly died of a gunshot wound to the chest, which perforated her lungs, aorta and esophagus. The manner of death was listed as an accident.
As The Post’s John Woodrow Cox reported last week, an average of 23 children were shot each day in 2015, according to a review of the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That’s at least one bullet every 63 minutes.
That year, an estimated 8,400 children were struck, and 1,458 of them died — more than in any year since at least 2010. That death toll amounted to more than the entire number of U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan over the past 10 years.
According to Florida law, “a person who stores or leaves, on a premise under his or her control, a loaded firearm … and who knows or reasonably should know that a minor is likely to gain access to the firearm without the lawful permission of the minor’s parent or the person having charge of the minor, or without the supervision required by law, shall keep the firearm in a securely locked box or container or in a location which a reasonable person would believe to be secure or shall secure it with a trigger lock.”
One exception, the law states: “When the person is carrying the firearm on his or her body or within such close proximity thereto that he or she can retrieve and use it as easily and quickly as if he or she carried it on his or her body.”
Failing to secure a firearm “in the required manner” is a misdemeanor, if a minor gains access to it without permission.
Yanelly’s obituary said she enjoyed watching the cartoon “Shimmer and Shine” and bouncing on the couch, the Tampa Bay Times reported. She also loved spending time with her grandparents, her father said.
“She was extremely close to them and would get so excited when she got to stay at her nana’s house,” Zoller told the Times. “She was attached to her nana’s hip.”
A Facebook page matching the grandmother’s name was filled with photos of the child, whom she called her “pop tart.” A day after the shooting death, Christie Zoller wrote: “God please answer me why did you take her.” Then: “Good night sweet Angel nana loves you more than words could ever say.”
By Thursday afternoon, the same day Nelly Zoller was to be buried at Sunset Memory Gardens in Thonotosassa, Fla., a GoFundMe page had raised more than $1,700 for her funeral costs, and a YouCaring campaign had raised about $400.
“So many broken hearts who are waiting to be told this is all one big nightmare,” read a message on the YouCaring page. “The shock and disbelief is real. The death of a child turns the world upside down and leaves unanswered questions of why? The only answer that half way makes sense is Heaven needed another angel. Her star shines bright. Our beautiful angel was taken by a freak accident, one that is difficult to discuss.”
The message end with: “Please love your children … please let them know you love them and never go to bed without giving them their little kisses and there hugs because you never know when it’ll be the last time you’ll say good night.”