Criminal Charges in Death of Boy Who Shot Himself at Gun Show

Police chief and gun club indicted in death of boy who shot himself at gun show.

Dec. 4, 2008 — -- A police chief and a Massachusetts gun club have been indicted for involuntary manslaughter in the death of an 8-year-old boy who accidentally shot himself with a Uzi at an October gun expo in Massachusetts.

Pelham Police Chief Edward Fleury owns COP Firearms & Training, which sponsored the Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo at the Westfield Sportsman's Club, where 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj accidentally shot himself in the head in October after losing control of the 9 mm Micro Uzi submachine gun.

In addition to the manslaughter indictments, Fleury and the Westfield Sportsman's Club were also indicted on four counts each of furnishing a gun to a minor.

Two other men, Carl Guiffre of Hartford, Conn., and Domenico Spano, of New Milford, Conn., also face involuntary manslaughter charges. Messages left at the listed phone numbers of both men were not returned Thursday afternoon, and their involvement in the youngster's death was unclear.

Christopher's father, Dr. Charles Bizilj of Ashford, Conn., and a firearms instructor were standing nearby when Christopher accidently shot and killed himself.

"The firearm instructor prepped the weapon for him, and once it was ready he handed it to the child," Westfield Police Lt. Hipolito Nunez told shortly after the accident.

Christopher then pulled the trigger, and the gun's recoil pulled the barrel upward, causing a round to hit him on the right side of his head, according to Nunez. He was pronounced dead a short time later at Baystate Medical Center in nearby Springfield. He died from a single gunshot to the right side of his head.

A woman who answered the phone at Charles Bizilj's office at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford Springs, Conn., where he is the director of emergency medicine, said he would have no comment on the indictments.

Messages left for Fleury, Guiffre and Spano were not immediately returned. The Web sites for both COP Firearm & Training and the Westfield's Sportman's Club have been taken down, but the flier for the expo is still available on the Internet.

The flier advertised that it was "all legal and fun -- no permits or licenses required."

Targets listed on the flier included pumpkins, vehicles and "other fun stuff we can't print here!"

Pelhman Police Lt. Jerry Thomann told today that the department wasn't commenting on Fleury's status there, but said that he was now the acting chief.

Still More Questions

Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners' Action League, which advocates for gun owners' rights in Massachusetts, said it was difficult for him to comment on the indictments because "we still don't' know what happened."

Wallace said it's still unclear to him under exactly what circumstances Christopher was shot and who was standing where.

"If things were done wrong, we will certainly be one of the first ones in line to say, 'What the hell were you thinking," he said today. "It's going to be interesting to see what the charges are based on."

Massachusetts law allows a child to fire a gun with parental consent, so long as there's an active permit for the gun and a licensed firearm instructor is supervising. It is unclear whether the gun had a permit or whether the instructor was licensed, but Nunez said Christopher's father was nearby.

But according to Ted Oven, a gun retailer and president of the Massachusetts Association of Firearms Dealers, Christopher should have never been allowed to handle a submachine gun on his own.

Oven, who spoke to shortly after Christopher's death, has shot similar weapons and said the recoil is tough to control even for an adult.

"It requires all my strength," said Oven, who added that he did not have much experience with the Micro Uzi. "For an 8-year-old, it was inappropriate."

The Micro Uzi, he said, is a tough gun to get a permit for and retails for several thousand dollars. He was not at the expo when Christopher was shot but said that because the gun is fully automatic, it likely shot off several rounds in a couple of seconds when the boy pulled the trigger.

A Tragic Loss

The Boston Field Division of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated the accident along with the Westfield Police, Massachusetts State Police and the Hampden County District Attorney's Office.

Susan Gates, general counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based Children's Defense Fund, said the shooting in Westfield was a tragic reminder that there is not enough being done in the U.S. to keep guns out of children's hands.

"It just continues to illustrate why children should not have access to any type of gun," Gates said.

Most children killed by guns handled them in their homes, and accidents at expos and shooting ranges are much less common, according to Gates.

But even though Massachusetts law, and those of many other states, allow children to shoot weapons in controlled environments, the Children's Defense Fund's policy is that those laws aren't strong enough.

"It is so dangerous, as well seen by this incident, to handle any type of loaded gun, never mind a loaded Uzi," Gates said.

William Hockla has lived across the street from Biziljs for years and said Christopher was very bright and active. He heard about the shooting on the radio this morning.

"I was hoping it wasn't true," he said.

He described Charles Bizilj and his wife, Suzanne, as involved parents who took their two boys camping, fishing and skiing.

"They were very polite, well-groomed," he said. "Terrific boys."