Authorities in Florida are trying to determine what, if any, charges to file against a father who says his toddler son picked up his semi-automatic handgun and accidentally shot and killed his mother last week.
"At the very least, it could be negligence for leaving the firearm accessible to the child," Tania Rues, a Miramar, Fla. Police Department spokeswoman, told The Huffington Post. "Obviously, you have potential of manslaughter and upwards as well, [but] I really wouldn't want to speculate at this moment."
Troy Bailey Sr., the father of the 2-year-old boy, called 911 Wednesday evening, requesting assistance at an apartment in the 8500 block of Sherman Circle North. Bailey told the dispatcher that his son had grabbed his 9 mm handgun off a table and accidentally fired it, shooting the boy's mother, 33-year-old Julia Bennett.
Bailey, who has a concealed weapons permit for the gun, said he had left the weapon unattended on a table while visiting the victim.
"My son picked it up, and I tried to grab it," Bailey said in the 911 call. "He shot his mom. God in heaven, help me please."
According to Rues, neighbors reported hearing the shot at 7 p.m., and Bailey’s 911 call was placed fewer than five minutes later.
"It was dispatched at 7:04, and our officers arrived fairly quickly because they were actually in the building next door investigating an [unrelated case]," she said.
Bennett was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy revealed she had been shot in the back in her upper torso area. Authorities have confirmed gunshot residue tests were conducted on Bailey and his son, but they have declined to share the results of those tests with the media.
LISTEN TO THE 911 CALL:
Bailey, a Jamaican national, did not live with Bennett and, according to Rues, is married to another woman. His wife only found out about his son and his ongoing relationship with Bennett after the shooting took place, police said.
Bennett, who worked as a medical technician, has two other children, both daughters, who live with family members. They were not present at the time of the shooting.
On Friday, Bennett's relatives, along with Lisa Glick of Children's Legal Services, appeared in court before Broward County Judge Arlene Joy Simon. During the hearing, Glick argued that the child should be placed in the care of the victim’s relatives. Glick asked the judge to consider the "very concerning allegations" that the child was in the home when "a loaded firearm was fired and subsequently killed the mother."
Bailey was not present during the court hearing. The judge subsequently ordered the youngster placed in the custody of his great aunt, Marva Anglin, and his great-grandmother, Joyce Pearce.
Following the court proceeding, Anglin told reporters the child is doing well but does not understand the gravity of the situation. "He just keeps calling [Bennet's] name," she said.
Some of Bennett's relatives have expressed concerns to local media outlets that the shooting did not actually occur the way Bailey has described it.
"We’re not buying it," Bennett's uncle, Hugh Pearce, told the Miami Herald. "We just don’t think it happened that way ... But we want to see police finish their investigation."
On Saturday, Fort Lauderdale's WSVN-TV, citing unnamed sources, reported allegations that Bailey had "confronted the victim at gunpoint in the past." Rues, however, said the claims are without merit.
"The only time we were called [by Bennett or Bailey] was several years ago, and it was for a traffic related issue … nothing domestic related," she said.
Rues added, "We have spoken to [the victim's] family members, [and] not one has been able to tell us that they have witnessed anything firsthand or the victim even told them anything firsthand. It seems to be a lot of rumors."
Reports that Bailey is not cooperating with police are also false, Rues said.
The case is still under investigation today, and authorities are not calling anyone a suspect or person of interest.
"The detectives will present the case to the state attorney's office with their recommendation, but the state attorney will determine how [Bailey] will be charged," Rues said.