Commonwealth’s attorney clears boy, parents in Crozet shooting

Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford's letter to Colonel Steve Sellers. Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford’s letter to Colonel Steve Sellers.

Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford has determined that the 10-year-old Crozet girl who was shot to death by her brother in their living room last month was killed accidentally. According to a legal analysis Lunsford delivered to Albemarle County Police Chief Colonel Steve Sellers Thursday morning, no charges will be filed against either the 13-year-old boy or his parents, and the shooting will be considered for legal purposes a “tragic accident.”

Lunsford’s statement and analysis, released Thursday morning to media, offers the first detailed explanation of what happened in the home of Commonwealth Christian Community church pastor Paul Hollifield, his wife, and their four children on the morning of Tuesday, May 21.

According to the Lunsford’s statement of facts, the children, who range in age from 9 to 15, were home alone that morning—not an unusual circumstance for the kids, who were homeschooled and often expected to wake up and get started on school work unsupervised.

Around 10am, the Hollifield’s 13-year-old son was cleaning and repairing a shotgun given to him by a relative the year before after completing a hunter’s safety class, the statement said. The gun hadn’t been working properly, and he had taken it apart, cleaned it, and put it back together the night before, leaving it in the living room with the safety engaged. He had taken two shells out, but forgot the one in the chamber, the statement said. While he was testing out his repairs in the morning with the gun raised to eye level and the safety off, he apparently accidentally pulled the trigger.

The shotgun was pointed in the direction of the living room’s loveseat and down a hallway, according to the statement. Maggie Hollifield was standing behind the loveseat, and her 9-year-old sibling was seated.

“After the gun discharged, the boy ran to get his older sibling,” Lunsford’s statement reads. “The two went to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor called 911 and the children called their mother. When they returned to their house, the older sibling attempted CPR on the 10 year-old.”

But when members of the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad arrived soon after, they confirmed the child was dead. Officers immediately began an investigation, according to Lunsford, interviewing each family member and other witnesses.The children’s parents told officers their son had always been careful with his gun, even reprimanding his dad for handling it improperly, according to Lunsford. The boy was described by his father as “tender hearted,” and there were no conflicts between the siblings in the days leading up to the shooting, the family said. Lunsford deemed the shooting an accident, and found no evidence for a charge of involuntary manslaughter, she said.

She also cleared the parents of abuse or neglect. The 13-year-old “had been schooled in the responsible use and care of the firearm and had demonstrated his knowledge of and adherence to the requirements of responsible gun ownership,” she said. “Although the parents were likely unaware that ammunition was in the residence, the firearm was stored unloaded and the ammunition was stored separate from the firearm. There is no evidence that the boy had behavioral problems, that he had ever attempted to harm his siblings, or that there had been any significant disagreements between the siblings on or before the moming of the incident. In fact, the evidence is precisely to the contrary.”

Lunsford praised officers for their handling of the shooting investigation. “Once agin, I appreciate the diligence and sensitivity of the members of the Albemarle County Police Departnent in dealing with a difficult situation,” she said.