A mother smoked marijuana in the front seat, sheriff says. In the back, her 4-year-old found a gun and shot himself.


With her three young children in the back seat, a Louisiana mother and her friend smoked marijuana in the front of the car, unaware of the danger lying just below them.

They weren’t watching 4-year-old Jarion Walker, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto said Monday. Not when he found a gun under one of their seats, not as he was playing with it, not when he pressed it against his forehead.

And not when he pulled the trigger.

Lopinto said at a news conference that investigators believe Jarion shot himself around 10:45 p.m. Saturday in a residential neighborhood just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. The boy was taken to a hospital, where he later died. The mother and her friend have not been identified.

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No one has been arrested in Jarion’s death, although prosecutors could decide to file charges once they receive the case from the sheriff’s office. The mother and her friend have cooperated with investigators, Lopinto said.

“We can always put blame on people,” the sheriff added. “When it comes down to it, I don’t think it was appropriate to make an arrest on this at this point. They’ve just lost a child, and it certainly wasn’t intentional by any means.”

Children accidentally shoot themselves or others hundreds of times every year, according to data from Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group. Since 2015, there have been 2,440 such shootings, which killed 915 people.

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In one such shooting, a toddler found an unsecured, loaded handgun inside a “Paw Patrol” backpack in his Florida home on Aug. 11, The Washington Post reported. He then fatally shot his mother while she was on a Zoom call for work. The child’s father, 22-year-old Veondre Avery, was charged with manslaughter and failure to securely store a firearm.

Police have reported other close calls involving children and unsecured weapons. Last spring, a kindergartner in Florida found a loaded handgun in his backpack after he arrived at school, The Post reported. The boy’s mother later told police she’d put it there while cleaning her car the night before but forgot to remove it before her son went to school.

Deaths like Jarion’s are avoidable; gun owners need only secure their firearms and keep them in places children can’t access, Lopinto said. “These types of deaths can certainly be prevented,” the sheriff said. “As a parent, we should never leave a gun inside of our vehicles for numerous different reasons, this one being the most tragic.”

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The gun Jarion found belongs to his father, who was not in the car during the shooting, Lopinto said. He had left it in the vehicle, the sheriff added, unbeknown to Jarion’s mother or her friend.

At first, investigators thought Jarion had been shot in the back of the head, leading them to focus on the two other children in the back seat, according to the sheriff. That presented a problem: Investigators believed his siblings — both under the age of 2 — were too young to manipulate the gun.

Then, Jarion’s autopsy revealed he had suffered a contact wound to the forehead, which was supported by evidence investigators collected from the car, Lopinto said. Investigators concluded Jarion had shot himself.

Jarion was playful, loved toys and had already taken a liking to basketball, his great-uncle, Charles Young, told Nola.com. Just days ago, the 4-year-old was jumping on his bed with his sister while visiting Young.

“He was a good kid,” he said.

The great-uncle told Nola.com he endured a near-sleepless night after he found out what had happened. As he talked about it in the days that followed, he struggled to accept the tragedy.

“What the hell is going on here?” Young said, adding, “It’s just so hard to believe that that little man is gone.”