updated 1/4/2005 12:29:24 AM ET 2005-01-04T05:29:24

A teenager was killed during a rural town’s New Year’s tradition of firing vintage black-powder muskets into the air, but town officials declared Monday that the centuries-old ritual would continue to be celebrated.

During the revelry early Saturday, a rifle exploded and pieces of the barrel struck 18-year-old Matthew K. Shook in the side of the head.

“There’s no effort in place here to end the practice,” Mayor Bob Austell said in a telephone interview. “This is something that’s been going on in Cherryville for more than 200 years. We have grandsons firing off muskets that once belonged to their grandfathers.”

Austell conceded, however, it was time to review safety standards for the “New Year’s Shoot” in Cherryville, a town of 5,400 about 40 miles west of Charlotte.

“Perhaps it’s a good time for us to highlight safety again and make sure every shooter has safety on their mind,” he said.

Shoot-off dates to 1700s
The tradition has been traced to the mid-1700s, when German settlers would fire their weapons as a kind of good-luck wish. In Cherryville’s celebration, groups of shooters visit dozens of homes and fire black powder from their muskets at every stop.

Shook was outside a party in the nearby town of Dallas when a black-powder rifle, instead of firing, exploded in his hands, police said. His death was ruled an accident.

Jeff Isenhour, assistant chief police in Gaston County, said Shook’s death was the first he’s heard of in connection with the event. “I don’t think this will cause much of a change because it has been going on for so long,” he said.

Holiday revelers firing guns in the air were also blamed for a New Year’s Eve death in Florida. An elderly man was killed in Orlando when a bullet from a high-powered rifle fell from the night sky and hit him in the chest, officials said.

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