BRANDON, Man. — A Manitoba woman is going to jail for leaving a gun where her five-year-old son could grab it, load it and shoot his younger sister through a bedroom door.
The bullet went straight through the girl’s abdomen, but she survived after emergency surgery.
Brandon Justice John Menzies sentenced Krista Lachapelle to eight months followed by 18 months of probation.
She pleaded guilty in February to criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
The judge said the woman’s husband was lucky that charges against him were dropped.
He said both parents were equally to blame for keeping a household where guns and ammunition were stored within easy reach.
Menzies said the shooting was predictable and he couldn’t understand what the couple was thinking.
“It’s a mindset, it’s a culture that I do not understand and I am not prepared to condone,” Menzies remarked during his sentencing Tuesday.
Initially, the Lachapelles were both charged, but Krista, 26, pleaded guilty and all charges against her husband, Daniel, were dropped. The Crown said it didn’t want to deprive the couple’s three children of both parents.
“The offer was for one to plead guilty and the decision was left up to Mr. and Mrs. Lachapelle as to which one would enter a guilty plea,” said attorney Grant Hughes.
Hughes said RCMP were called to the Souris hospital in November 2011. The family, who lived near Elgin, Man., had rushed the girl there after she was shot.
In critical condition, the child was transferred to Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg where surgeons removed 20 to 30 centimetres of intestine.
The bullet was later found on the floor of the girl’s bedroom near her dollhouse.
Defence lawyer Bob Harrison said the family wasn’t sure for at least four or five days whether the girl would live. Doctors placed her in an induced coma and told her parents that if she got an infection she could die within 48 hours.
Court heard that while the girl is left with a scar, she has otherwise recovered. Her brother, however, blames himself to this day.
Daniel Lachapelle wasn’t home at the time of the shooting. Court was told his wife called him and he was home by the time police arrived.
Hughes said officers noted the house was in “disarray” and “unsanitary.”
Officers seized five guns and 300 rounds of ammunition, which were in plain view or in an unlocked cupboard or drawer.
A .308-calibre rifle lay on the bed in the master bedroom. Two other rifles were in the closet. The .22-calibre rifle used in the shooting was found in an open closet in the kitchen along with a 16-gauge shotgun.
A magazine full of live rounds for a .308-calibre rifle, along with a half-full box of .22-calibre bullets, was on top of the fridge.
A bow and crossbow, arrows, bolts and assorted ammo were stashed in the basement.
“All of these items were in clear view and were easily accessible to anyone who entered the home,” Hughes noted.
The attorney said there were no trigger locks in the house. Nor was there a gun safe.
Three sharpened replica Samurai swords were also found in the house along with two bags that contained a total of 20 grams of marijuana.
During his interview with police, the boy drew pictures of guns and talked about his dad’s guns being in the kitchen closet. He also demonstrated how to load a gun. He said he’d pulled the bullet that he fired out of a drawer.
The mother told police that there were five guns in the house used in different hunting seasons. She said her son was stubborn. On the day of the shooting, she said, he wanted to go hunting and believed he was big enough to handle the rifle.
She said the rifle used in the shooting was always kept in a closet off the kitchen which was secured with an “eye-and-hook” lock. But the boy could climb on a chair and unfasten it, so she took the rifle down the hall. She said the gun wasn’t loaded when she checked it.
She put the gun down while she changed her six-month-old daughter’s diaper.
Daniel Lachapelle admitted that he knew the guns weren’t stored properly.
The mother cried as she apologized in court and said she hopes her children don’t blame themselves for her mistake.
“I just don’t know how in the world I can ever make it up to them, that I hurt them. I was supposed to be the one to protect them.”
Menzies said a jail sentence was needed to drive home the message that weapons need to be properly stored.
The family has since moved to British Columbia.