Police: Mom let toddler handle gun before he killed 9-year-old brother

Wendy Lavarnia (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

PHOENIX (AP) – A 9-year-old boy shot in the head by his 2-year-old brother with their mother’s handgun died Tuesday, and their mother told police she had previously let the toddler handle the gun when it wasn’t loaded, authorities said.

Landen Lavarnia was declared dead at a hospital, Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Vince Lewis said. Police had initially said the boy died on Monday when he was shot. But they corrected themselves and said he remained on life support earlier Tuesday before dying in the late afternoon.

The mother, Wendy Lavarnia, 28, told police she had put her loaded gun on a bed within reach of her 2-year-old and 4-year-old sons while she turned to get a holster, according to court records. That’s when the 2-year-old grabbed the gun and shot her 9-year-old son, who was playing video games a few feet away, police said.

Wendy Lavarnia told police she had allowed “the 2-year-old to practice pulling the trigger of this gun when empty on previous occasions,” the records showed.

Lavarnia had appeared in court briefly before the boy was declared dead, and asked the judge whether she could go to the hospital to see him, but the judge said she couldn’t get out of jail without posting a $25,000 bond. The judge also said she had to stay away from victims in the case as well as any children.

She didn’t have an attorney and spoke little during her brief appearance. She was jailed on suspicion of four counts of child abuse – one count for each of her four children in the home.

Lewis says investigators are examining whether to bring additional charges against the boy’s parents.

The father, 31-year-old Kansas Lavarnia, arrived home as police investigated the shooting. He was arrested because he was barred from having a gun in the family home because of a theft conviction, authorities said. He completed a three-year prison sentence in 2012.

Authorities say he knew there was a gun in his home.

He said only his name and date of birth in his court appearance.

He was ordered released on his own recognizance because he isn’t accused of directly causing harm in the shooting by the 2-year-old, said Maricopa County Court Commissioner Paula Williams.

He hasn’t been assigned a lawyer, and there’s no phone listing under his name.

A review conducted by The Associated Press and the USA TODAY Network found that minors died from accidental shootings at their own hands, or at the hands of other children or adults, at a pace of one every other day during the first six months of 2016.

“It’s gun safety,” Jason Burns, a neighbor of the Lavarnias, told KPHO-KTVK-TV. “You need to keep it locked up and you need to educate your kids that this is not a toy.

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