Holston Cole, 3, shot himself in the chest after finding his father's gun at their home in Paulding County April 26. Holston is survived by his parents, David and Haley Cole, and 1-year-old twin sisters, Paisley and Macy. (Family photo)
Photo: Family photo
Photo: Family photo

3-year-old dies after shooting himself inside Paulding County home

UPDATE: No criminal charges were filed in the death of 3-year-old Holston Cole, who shot himself with his father's gun. Authorities called it an accidental shooting.

A 3-year-old boy shot and killed himself Tuesday morning with a gun belonging to his parents, Paulding County authorities said.

Tuesday afternoon, after the county sheriff’s office had finished its investigation and left the scene, the front yard of the Cole family home was littered with riding toys, a wagon, a slide — colorful reminders of happy times for a young family.

Around 7 a.m., just as the family was beginning its day, young Holston Cole found a gun and shot himself in the chest, according to investigators. The boy was taken to WellStar Paulding Hospital but did not survive.

No information was released Tuesday on where the boy found the gun, which belonged to his family, according to Sgt. Ashley Henson with the Paulding Sheriff’s Office. Investigators believe the shooting was accidental, though the boy’s death remains under investigation, Henson said.

Holston’s death was the latest shooting in metro Atlanta in which small children have found loaded guns at home and killed themselves. It was the second time in slightly more than six months a child in Paulding was unintentionally shot to death.

Across the U.S., at least 69 children were accidentally injured or killed by gunfire in 2015, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control advocacy group. Although 14 states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting negligent storage of guns, adults in Georgia are only criminally liable when they knowingly provide a child with a gun.

In March, a North Carolina mother was charged with reckless conduct, a misdemeanor, after her 2-year-old son found her gun and shot himself at a DeKalb County hotel, according to police. Ten days earlier, an 11-year-old Gwinnett County boy shot and killed himself while playing with a gun inside his family’s Norcross home. No charges were filed in the death of the boy, Summerour Middle School student Alan Martinez.

The Paulding Sheriff’s Office also investigated the October shooting death of 8-year-old Sharia Lynch. Sharia’s mother, Marsha Lynch, told investigators the gun had fallen and discharged inside the family’s home. But in January, police said the mother had lied and that Sharia’s older brother had accidentally fired the gun. The brother, Quincy Lynch, 23, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct and Marsha Lynch, also wounded in the incident, was charged with obstruction.

Following Tuesday’s shooting, investigators spent several hours at the Dallas-area home, located off Camp Circle off Dallas-Acworth Highway. The family’s home sits a long walk from the road, and a small portion of the front yard is surrounded by a fence. Inside the fence were enough toys for the Cole siblings and more, but no one was home to play.

Outside the home, an associate pastor at West Ridge Church in Dallas said the Cole family was shocked and heartbroken by the death of the boy, the oldest of three children.

“It’s so surreal to come home from a hospital without a loved one,” Paul Richardson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

David and Haley Cole are active volunteers in their church, where David previously worked part-time, Richardson said. In addition to Holston, the couple has 1-year-old twin girls, Paisley and Macy. A family picture, taken by a friend, showed the Coles seated in front of large bales of hay. Holston and his sisters, sitting in their parents’ laps, were dressed in matching yellow.

On Tuesday, the Coles were surrounded by family members and friends as word spread through the community of the boy’s death. Dozens of friends used Facebook to share sympathies with the family, including offers of prayer.

“My heart is heavy. I have no words,” one person posted. “Hugs and prayers for your family during this time. He is an angel in God’s arms.”

The GBI will perform an autopsy on Holston, the sheriff’s office said.

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