A Michigan man has been charged with illegally possessing the handgun that a 2-year-old used to fatally shoot himself in a car, as well as with the subsequent burning of the vehicle, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
A grand jury returned an indictment against Avis Damone Coward for counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, conspiracy to tamper with evidence and tampering with evidence, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan said.
The child shot himself while the vehicle he was in was parked at a Lansing gas station on Oct. 24, the prosecutor’s office said.
Coward handed off the child to someone else, who took the boy into the gas station, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement. Then, Coward picked up his gun, used his fist to break the window where the bullet had exited and drove away, the office said.
The sport utility vehicle was later found torched in a field.
Coward pleaded not guilty to all three counts Wednesday, his lawyer, Heath Lynch, said.
Lynch said that the shooting of the child was a horrible tragedy, but that Coward is entitled to the presumption of innocence and that it remains to be seen what evidence links him to the gun or any conspiracy.
“The process needs to run its course before anyone rushes to judgment, even under circumstances when there is pressure to hold someone responsible for an unimaginable loss of a child,” Lynch said in an email.
The child’s mother, 26-year-old Emma Huver, is also charged federally with being a felon in possession of a firearm, federal prosecutors said. State charges that include involuntary manslaughter have also been filed against her, NBC affiliate WILX of Lansing reported.
Another woman, Gina Schieberl, 26, is also charged federally with conspiracy to tamper with evidence and tampering with evidence, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
The firearm deaths of children increased in 2021 to a new all-time high, a study that analyzed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data found.
Dr. Chethan Sathya, a pediatric trauma surgeon at Northwell Health in New York and the lead author of the study, called the firearm deaths “undoubtedly one of our chief public health crises in this country.”