4-year-old Katterine Palma and her brother and sister were dropped off at an aunt's house in Charlotte, North Carolina Saturday morning. Katterine was in a bedroom with her 11-year-old brother and her 3-year-old cousin when they found a loaded, unlocked handgun that belonged to the aunt's boyfriend, 37-year-old Erin Melendez. Police are still investigating what exactly happened but what is known is that one of the children unintentionally discharged the handgun, shooting Katterine. The child was rushed to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Melendez has been charged with storing a gun in a manner accessible to a minor. Melendez told news reporters that he bought the .38-caliber handgun about six months ago for protection after he was the victim of an armed robbery. He said he kept the gun loaded and unlocked but hidden in various parts of the apartment. Sometimes under a mattress, sometimes in a desk drawer.
North Carolina law requires that guns be stored in a way that cannot be accessed by a child living in the home. Violation of the law is a Class 1 misdemeanor offense.
In the past year at least four children in the Carolinas have been seriously injured or killed in unintentional shootings. In August, the 4-year-old son of a South Carolina sheriff's deputy was seriously injured when he shot himself with his father's gun. In February, a 10-year-old boy unintentionally shot and killed his 11-year-old sister in their Anson County home. Last year, a 5-year-old boy shot himself in the face when he found a loaded, unlocked gun while visiting friends. The owner of that gun was not charged because no children lived in the home and North Carolina law only applies to homes with children.