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SHERIDAN — Authorities have said the 11-year-old male victim in Thursday’s accidental shooting was struck in the head by a bullet from a .22-caliber rifle when another child tried to either hand the weapon to the victim or put it back in the ATV in which they were traveling.
Sgt. Mike Gale with the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office said the boy stumbled and the weapon discharged, striking the victim in the head, but not penetrating his skull.
At least one parent was at the house, near where the accidental shooting took place, but Gale said the victim’s parents were not aware the boys had the weapon. Gale added that the SCSO investigation is still open and it is unclear to whom the rifle belonged.
The victim was taken to Sheridan Memorial Hospital after the incident and the SMH doctor on-site made the decision to transport the boy to Billings via Life Flight.
Despite initial reports to the contrary, the county’s law enforcement dispatch was notified by Sheridan Memorial Hospital staff of the incident, though it was several hours later.
At that point, the SCSO contacted the Billings clinic where the boy was being treated and worked with the Billings police to conduct the followup.
Though most states require health care providers to report gunshot wounds to local law enforcement there is no such statute in the state of Wyoming. Sheridan County Attorney Matt Redle said Friday that the only mandatory reporting requirements in state statute that he was aware of apply to child abuse or the abuse of vulnerable seniors. A bill requiring health care providers to report gunshot wounds was proposed in 2002 in Wyoming.
Montana law requires the treating person to place a report by the fastest means possible within 24 hours of the initial treatment. SMH Chief Medical Officer John Addlesperger stated that there was not a written hospital policy he was aware of regarding reporting gunshot wounds but that it is his personal policy to do so.
Addlesperger was not on duty at the time of the incident.
“If there is no foul play then fine, but give them the chance to investigate,” he said. “There really is no downside to having law enforcement involved and it’s pretty standard to involve them, but again there is no written policy on the books that I am aware of.”
Wyoming law does, however, require that any person in charge of any garage or repair shop report any motor vehicle that shows evidence of having been struck by any bullet within 24 hours after the motor vehicle is received by the garage or repair shop — giving the identifying number, registration number and the name and address of the owner or driver of the vehicle.
The case is still under investigation and the SCSO declined to release the name of the victim or the other minor involved at this time. He reported that the child underwent surgery Thursday night and the surgery went well.
“I did call and speak with the father just now, and he said it was a miracle, but the child will likely be released today,” SCSO Dave Hofmeier said Friday morning.
Early investigation indicates it was likely an accidental wound inflicted by another minor, apparently a male friend of approximately the same age as the victim.
“We’ve talked to the families and all parties and got assistance from the Billings PD and everything we have learned, there is nothing that points us to any other outcome than accidental,” Hofmeier said. “What we will do is continue the investigation and go from there, but I can tell you solidly I’m 99.9 percent this is an accident.”
If proven accidental, there would be no charges involved.
Gale offered one safety tip to those who own or are around firearms.
“Always treat every firearm like it is loaded,” he said. “And don’t load your firearm until you need it.”