According to Patridge and other witnesses, the teenagers were making room for another passenger in the backseat of an extended cab pickup truck. Patridge asked Zachary to pass him the rifle. As Zachary picked up the gun by the barrel, which was pointed at this head, the gun discharged.
Police speculate that a protruding object in the back seat could have snagged the trigger and caused it to discharge. The gun was equipped with a safety, but the safety was not engaged. Patridge told police he had been hunting two days before the shooting, which is why the rifle and a shot gun were in the truck. But he thought the rifle was not loaded when he put the gun on the floor of the back seat.