Gavin Thompson, the son of Officer John Thompson, apparently got the .45-caliber handgun from the top shelf of a bedroom closet in their home on F Street in Liberty, police said. The gun discharged just before noon, striking the boy in the upper body.
He was pronounced dead on arrival at UPMC McKeesport.
“John definitely had his weapon secured,” Port Vue police Lieutenant Bryan Myers said. “How the child got the weapon, we don’t know yet.”
He said the boy’s death appears to be an “unfortunate accident” but referred other questions to Allegheny County homicide detectives, who were still investigating Friday night. County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt offered few glimpses into the shooting but noted that his detectives were canvassing the quiet street, talking to people who were both inside and outside the home before Gavin was struck.
Mr. Thompson, a five-year veteran of the Port Vue force, also has worked intermittently as a Liberty officer for more than 10 years, Liberty police Chief Luke Riley said.
“He is a fine officer,” said Mr. Myers, who described himself as a personal friend of the Thompson family. “I’m devastated.”
Liberty police were called to the home just before noon after 911 received a hang-up call from the address. Police called county homicide detectives when they realized the boy’s father was a fellow officer, Mr. Riley said. Gavin was one of five young siblings, some of whom were home when he was shot. Neighbors said the children’s mother lives in the home, but they weren’t sure if she was there when the gun went off.
The boy’s sister ran outside and sought help from a man who was visiting his own young grandchildren who live across the street.
“She said, ‘Something happened, and Dad said to get some help,’ ” said the man, a former Port Authority police officer who asked not to be identified. He rushed into the house and found the boy lying on the floor in his father’s arms.
The man performed CPR on Gavin before paramedics arrived.
The other children, he said, seemed not to grasp the situation.
“They didn’t realize what had happened,” the man said. “They said they thought a balloon broke.”
Mr. Thompson was in tears.
“The other police officers were consoling him,” said Amy Lockhart, who lives next door and watched emergency crews from her porch. She said paramedics and police flooded the area and a few minutes passed before they brought Gavin out on a stretcher and loaded him into an ambulance.
“He had blood on his face,” she said. “That’s all I know.”
A mother herself, Ms. Lockhart wondered how the boy was able to retrieve the weapon.
“How could it be so accessible to him?” she said. “He’s 4.”
In a seemingly similar case last month, the 4-year-old son of a state trooper at the Belle Vernon barracks accidently wounded himself with his father’s personal gun at the family home in Donora. Police in that case wouldn’t say what steps Trooper Nicholas Petrosky took to secure the weapon or how his son got it. That boy survived.