Royal Clark would have turned 2 on Sunday. Instead of a birthday party, the toddler’s family is planning a memorial.
“Even though he wasn’t here long, he touched so many lives with love,” his grandmother, Bridget Brown, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday.
The family says a tragic mistake took Royal, who died Sept. 5 after finding his father’s gun in the family’s Cobb County home. Royal’s father was making breakfast when the child found the gun and fatally shot himself in the head, according to police.
Conrad Carrington Clark, 30, is being held without bond in the Cobb jail, charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless conduct and possession of a firearm by a felon, according to his arrest warrant.
“It was truly, truly an accident,” Brown said.
Royal’s family says Clark, grieving behind bars, had the gun to protect his family. Georgia law prohibits people convicted of felonies from owning firearms.
The Labor Day weekend was a busy and joyful one, as the family had gathered to celebrate an engagement, a new baby and Royal’s upcoming birthday.
After a long day, Clark forgot to put the gun away, the family believes.
“Conrad was really engaged with Royal. He made a mistake,” Brown said. “But he loved him so much.”
Little Royal had a big personality and a growing vocabulary. “Dinosaur” and “elephant” were two of his favorite words.
“We said he was going to be a track star because he could run so fast,” his grandmother said.
“He was my miracle baby,” said Royal’s mother, Brittany Brown. She and Clark recently became engaged.
Royal was the second metro Atlanta child two die within two days after a loaded gun was left within reach, according to investigators.
The day before Royal’s death, a 7-year-old boy was fatally shot outside a DeKalb County gas station. DeKalb officers responded to a shooting call at around 6:30 p.m. Sept. 4 at a Texaco along Rock Chapel Road, just a few miles north of Lithonia. The child was dead when police arrived. The boy’s 6-year-old brother was in the car at the time.
The boys’ father, Dante Daugherty, 42, was charged with second-degree murder and two counts of second-degree cruelty to children.
A 2022 report by The AJC found that when children accidentally shoot themselves or others with guns they find, the charges can vary — if the gun owners are charged at all. A 2022 Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found firearms to be the leading cause of death for children in the United States. Shootings, including accidental deaths, suicides, and homicides, killed 4,357 victims ages 19 and younger in the country in 2020, or roughly 5.6 per 100,000 children.
Funeral plans are pending for Royal. The family is hopeful a GoFundMe page will help raise the money needed for a service. On Sunday, a balloon release is planned to celebrate the boy’s short life.
“Our message to parents is to not take time for granted,” Bridget Brown said. “Not for a split-second.”