DOLAN SPRINGS, Ariz. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A 9-year-old New Jersey girl accidentally killed an Arizona shooting instructor as he was showing her how to use an automatic Uzi, authorities said Tuesday.
Charles Vacca, 39, of Lake Havasu City, died Monday shortly after being airlifted to University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Mohave County sheriff’s officials said.
Investigators said Vacca was standing next to the girl at the Last Stop outdoor shooting range in White Hills when she pulled the trigger and the recoil sent the gun over her head and one of the discharged bullets struck the instructor in the head, CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported.
Video released Tuesday by sheriff’s officials shows the 9-year-old, wearing a gray T-shirt and pink shorts with her hair pulled back in a long braid, holding the firearm in both hands. Vacca, standing to her left, tells her to turn her left leg forward.
“All right, go ahead and give me one shot,” he tells the girl, whose back is to the camera during the entire 27-second video. He then cheers when she fires one round at the target.
“All right full auto,” Vacca then says. The video, which does not show the actual incident, ends with a series of shots being heard.
Authorities said the girl, whose name was not released, was at the shooting range with her parents. The family is from New Jersey and was on vacation, WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported.
The owner of the range said instructors are trained to push weapons out of the students’ hands if something goes wrong, but it’s unclear what happened in this case.
“We really don’t know what happened,” said owner Sam Scarmardo. “Our guys are trained to basically hover over people when they’re shooting. If they’re shooting right-handed, we have our right-hand behind them ready to push the weapon out of the way. And if they’re left-handed, the same thing.”
Ronald Scott, a Phoenix-based firearms safety expert, said most shooting ranges have an age limit and strict safety rules when teaching children to shoot.
He said instructors usually have their hands on guns when children are firing high-powered weapons.
“You can’t give a 9-year-old an Uzi and expect her to control it,” Scott said.
Investigators said no laws were broken. In Nevada and Arizona, it’s up to the gun range to allow a particular minor to fire a gun, CBS News reported.
Scarmardo said kids 8 and older were allowed to shoot firearms, but as a result of the accident, the range has changed it policy.
Shooters now have to stand at least 5 feet tall or be at least 12 years old.
Vacca was a husband, a veteran and popular in the community.
“It’s really been breaking a lot of people’s hearts because a lot of us knew him down there,” an acquaintance said.
Lateif Dickerson, director of the New Jersey Firearms Academy in Jersey City, told WCBS 880 an accident like the one in Arizona is an “extremely rare” occurrence.
“It’s a fun activity. It makes kids safer when they learn the proper way to learn to handle and fire firearms,” Dickerson said, when asked why parents would want their child to learn how to shoot an Uzi.
Police said there will be no charges in the incident, but the consequences are lasting.
“Everybody is held responsible. The parents have to live with this for the rest of their life, the child has to live with this, the person who died, his family, his coworkers. Everybody is going to live with this for the rest of their life,” Dickerson said.
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