MAPLE HEIGHTS, Ohio — Along with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Maple Heights police detectives are investigating how and why a 5-year-old boy managed to get his hands on a loaded gun before fatally shooting himself late Tuesday night. Although the circumstances of the fatal shooting remain unclear, firearms instructors said it tragically highlights the need for education and secure storage of firearms in the home.
MHPD said officers found Princeton Patterson, 5, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound just before midnight on Tuesday at a home in the 19700 block of Maple Heights Boulevard. Police reports do not indicate how the child got a hold of the firearm or if any adults were inside the home.
Kim Rodecker, a former firearms instructor during his time as a marine, has been teaching concealed carry and firearms safety classes for more than 15 years. Preventing unintentional shootings by children has been a focal point of his instruction since day one, he said. His lessons on child gun safety far exceed what is required.
"I want to make a difference. I don't want to ever hear of one of my students' kids having an accidental shooting," Rodecker said. "I'll never know if I had an impact -- but that's a good thing, when you think about it. That means nothing went wrong. My education helped. All it takes is education. That's all it takes. Just putting the gun in the house and leaving it in the house and never telling the kids about it -- that's a disaster waiting to happen. That's just a disaster."
One of the key components to Rodecker's instruction centers around teaching parents how to talk to their children about firearms in an attempt at 'de-mystifying the weapon. He tells his students that they need to communicate with their children that they should never touch it without approval and supervision.
It is also vital that parents demonstrate for their children that just because a magazine has been removed from the firearm, a round could potentially still be in the chamber.
"That simple little demonstration right there can show a kid how there can be a round in the chamber even if the magazine is out and it could hurt or kill themselves, a friend or a family member," Rodecker said. "Kids go through your stuff, you know? Boys may be a little worse than girls but girls do it too. They go through your things. If you've never had education with them, you've got a problem."
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit organization that advocates for stricter gun control and against gun violence, there were nearly 370 unintentional shootings by children in 2020, marking a 20% increase compared to 2019. Ohio represented more than two dozen of those cases.
Although Rodecker is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, he also advocates for parents of small children to have their firearms safely secured. Sprawled out on a picnic table in his backyard, Rodecker displayed a number of different locks and lockboxes that parents can -- and should -- be using. Many of the locks and lockboxes are cheaper than a box of ammunition.
"This is about a $23 box. Cost is no excuse for not buying that. Anybody can come up with that. If you can come up with a gun you can come up with $23 bucks for that," Rodecker said. "A lot of the times, they sell cable locks with the gun. The cable lock goes through [the chamber] so the gun can't be used."
Under Ohio law, firearm retailers are required to make locks and other secure storage devices available for purchase. However, unlike some states, there is no requirement under state law for gun owners to use them. Although bills have been introduced in recent years to require safe storage, those bills often languish in committee.
Rodecker believes every family should make the decision for themselves but he implores those with children to strongly consider a lockbox, especially if they are going to keep the firearm loaded. Rodecker said parents also need to educate their children on the proper procedures if they were to find a gun in public.
"Maybe somebody did something bad during the night and ditched the gun. Should [the child] touch it? No. He should leave the area and immediately get a responsible adult and let the adult handle it, which should be calling the cops," Rodecker said.
Anyone with information about the incident in Maple Heights is asked to contact police at 216-587-9624 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact CrimeStoppers at 216-252-7465.
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