Call raised for gun safety after another child dies

James David Dickson, and George Hunter

Guns are ubiquitous in Detroit’s 8th Precinct among criminals as well as citizens who fear them, with firearms meant for protection sometimes becoming instruments of tragedy.

Sabrina Witcher says she has already talked with her children about gun safety. Shown here are daughters Amber Witcher, 1, left, Ter’ryah Knott, 4, and Kamryn Witcher, 2.

The latest victim is 5-year-old Mariah Davis, who fatally shot herself in the throat just after midnight Wednesday after finding her grandmother’s Colt .38 revolver under a pillow.

Mariah was the fourth child shot in the precinct since Easter, the second victim of a self-inflicted shooting, and the third to die from the injuries. Not all were the result of crime, but that doesn’t calm the nerves of those on the city’s northwest side.

There are enough armed criminals to make citizens want to arm themselves, said Sabrina Witcher, a 29-year-old mother of five who lives near Wednesday’s shooting scene.

“It’s because of all the crime,” she said. “I’m getting a gun. I live with my sister, and she already has one.”

Of the 274 aggravated assaults in the 8th Precinct since Jan. 1, 100 involved guns, according to Detroit Police Department crime data.

Fear of crime has many citizens packing. As of March 1, there were 32,638 concealed pistol license holders registered in Detroit, Officer Jennifer Moreno said.

“That doesn’t count rifles, shotguns, or people who keep pistols in their homes; that’s just the CPL holders,” she said.

It’s impossible to determine how many people carry illegal guns.

Witcher said she has already talked to her children about gun safety. “I tell them guns are dangerous, and they shouldn’t play with them,” she said. “You just have to be smart and keep them where kids can’t get to them.”

Firearms instructor Rick Ector agreed. “If you’re a firearm owner, you absolutely have the responsibility to keep them away from unauthorized users, and that includes children,” said Ector, of Rick’s Firearm Academy in Detroit.

It’s a message police say they have been pushing, too.

“Gun owners need to be responsible,” Assistant Police Chief Steve Dolunt said. “People must think ‘it won’t happen to me’ — until it happens to them.”

The latest two self-inflicted child shootings come at an otherwise peaceful time in the neighborhood, said Detroit Police Commander Jacqueline Pritchett of the city’s 8th Precinct.

Since a Take Back the Neighborhood initiative launched two weeks ago, there have been warrant sweeps and marches and there have not been any street robberies or shootings.

The precinct is working with children and adults to preach gun safety, Pritchett said. Neighborhood police officers have been deployed to day care centers and schools to give children one message: If you find a gun, don’t touch it. Tell an adult.

For adults, the message is about balancing the right to bear arms against the curiosity of children.

“A gun should never be in eyesight or arm’s reach of a child,” Pritchett said. “If you feel unsafe at home, wear the gun on your hip.

“An extra step taken last night could’ve prevented this baby from being shot and killed.”

Mariah Davis

Gun under a pillow

According to a police report of the incident obtained by The Detroit News, Mariah was in her bedroom of the house in the 19700 block of Oakfield just after midnight Wednesday, playing with her 1-year-old brother and a neighbor’s 3-year-old daughter.

Mariah slipped into her grandmother’s room, the report said, took the pistol from underneath the pillow, and then took it into the bedroom with the other kids before pulling the trigger.

The grandmother, who was babysitting, was downstairs cooking, and her grandfather was in a third room upstairs watching TV, police said.

“(The grandfather) ran into the children’s bedroom and discovered Mariah unconscious,” the report said. The other children were not harmed.

The grandfather called 911. Police found Mariah on a bed with no pulse. An ambulance took the girl to Sinai-Grace Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 12:23 a.m.

“We were unable to get a statement from (Mariah’s grandmother), due to her hysteria,” the police report said.

A large contingent of people milled around the scene Wednesday afternoon, blocking access to the grandparents’ house and telling journalists to leave the area.

A 5-year-old girl is dead after finding a gun under her grandmother’s pillow and shooting herself with it early Wednesday morning at this house on Oakfield in Detroit, police said.

Responsibility stressed

Police will submit an investigative report to Wayne County prosecutors, who will then determine whether to charge the grandparents, Dolunt said.

There “could be a variety of different charges” in this case, though no arrest has been made, Pritchett said.

Dolunt said the case underscores the need to keep guns away from children.

“People need to either keep their guns unloaded or use child locks,” he said. “We’ve had several programs in which we’ve given free child locks. It’s sad and tragic that a child has to die this way when it could have been avoided.”

Police Chief James Craig made national headlines two years ago after he told The News more responsible gun owners could curb crime. He reiterated that point Wednesday — but stressed responsibility.

“I’ve been very public about my position of gun ownership, and when I talk about gun owners being law-abiding citizens, I also emphasize the necessity to be trained and responsible.

“To me, there’s no excuse for a child to have access to a weapon. That’s a clear indication of irresponsibility. It’s not about how many guns are out there; it’s the fact that we have people who are sometimes not responsible.”

Gun instructor Ector said even if someone doesn’t have a gun in the home, kids should be taught about firearms.

“And although legally you’re not required to go through training to have a gun in your house, you should get some kind of firearms instruction anyway,” he said.

“If more people practiced basic firearm safety, we wouldn’t have these tragedies.”