Mother charged with neglect after 2-year-old son shot, killed self makes first court appearance

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4 Fast Facts

  • Mother charged after 2-year-old found gun in her purse and fatally shot himself
  • Kanisha Shelton facing count of neglect of a dependent resulting in death
  • Shelton made her first court appearance Thursday morning
  • She's due in court next month and faces a jury trial in July

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – An Indianapolis mother facing charges after her 2-year-old son died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound made her first court appearance Thursday.

Kanisha Shelton, 23, was charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death after police say her son found a gun in her purse and fatally shot himself last month.

Kanisha Shelton in court on May 12, 2016

Kanisha Shelton in court on May 12, 2016

In court Thursday, she was given five weeks to find an attorney. Her next hearing is scheduled for June 16 with a trial set for July. A dozen supporters surrounded her as she entered the building Thursday, many of them wearing shirts saying, "his wings were ready, but my heart was not."

The shooting occurred on April 20 just after 9 p.m. in the 5200 block of Alameda Road on Indy's northwest side. When officers arrived on scene, they say they found the unresponsive 2-year-old boy suffering from a single gunshot wound to the chest. The child was rushed to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health where he was later pronounced dead by medical staff.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said it was not an emotionally easy decision to charge Shelton, but that the law made it necessary.  It took about three weeks to file charges because prosecutors had to interview Shelton and her family members.

"We’re not unsympathetic that this is a horrible, horrible tragedy for the mother. ... The law is clear that if you put your child in these dangerous circumstances then it can constitute a crime," Curry said.

According to court documents, Shelton told police that the shooting occurred while she was upstairs putting her 9-month-old daughter to bed.

Mug shot of Kanisha Shelton

Mug shot of Kanisha Shelton

Shelton told police that her purse was on the kitchen counter, and sometimes her son climbs on the chairs that are against the counter. Shelton also told police that her son “gets into her purse all of the time,” according to court documents.

Shelton had a permit for the gun. She told detectives that at a local gun store, "she was instructed to keep the gun loaded, with a bullet in the chamber" and that she "keeps the gun in her car, but recently decided she should have it in the home with her."

Local firearms experts say it is never the right thing to keep a loaded gun in reach of your children, and that instead you should use a gun lock or an easy-to-open safe that your kids can't access.

"If you think it’s out of reach, (they'll) prove you wrong so you always want to have it locked up and hidden," Zach Rogers with Indy Arms Co said.

Curry said that no matter how many cases like this happen, they still continue to go on. His office is working a nearly identical case from 2013, in which a three-year-old boy also got a gun from the kitchen counter. His father, Nicholas Gulling, has agreed to a plea agreement.

"(We) start to sound like a broken record because we’ve had these situations arise and they continue to arise. We would hope that at some point all parents would realize that if you’re going to be a gun owner, you’ve got to be a responsible gun owner," Curry said.

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