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Mother Shares Story To Spark Change After Her Daughter Is Shot, Killed By Friend With Gun

Reported: May. 5, 2014 4:55 PM EDT
Updated: May. 5, 2014 11:41 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va (Leslie Rubin) -- People put locks on their doors to protect their families and homes, but studies show few adults put locks on their guns to protect their kids.

Eyewitness News is taking part in a new initiative to help get gun locks to anyone who needs one.

In December, Payton Thomas, 10, a third-grader a Ruffner Elementary, was killed at a friend's house after being shot by another child who had access to a loaded, unlocked gun.

Her mother is now hoping her story will encourage parents everywhere to take a simple, lifesaving step, and use a gun lock.

Lindsey Thomas has trouble finding the words to explain how her life has changed since Dec. 23, 2013, the day her daughter was shot and killed.

"My worst fear always has been somebody kidnapping them. I never thought in a million years that my daughter would die by a bullet. It never once crossed my mind," she said.

The thoughts that run across her mind are much different now. She tries to remember Payton and her carefree way of life, instead of focusing on how she died.

"She was a very loving child. She was smart. Rambunctious, She loved to play outside," Thomas said. "She was definitely a leader, not a follower."

Just two days before Christmas last year, Payton was playing at a friend's house when a 9-year-old boy got a hold of his grandfather's shotgun, accidentally shooting her. She died just a few hours later.
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"The worst thing I can't get out of my head is watching her die in the hospital," Thomas said.

She believes her daughter would still be alive if that gun would have been locked up -- out of reach and sight.

"There was no reason for that gun to be out," she said.

According to statistics from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 55 percent of all American children live in homes with access to unlocked guns.

Eighty-nine percent of unintentional shooting deaths of children happen in the home, most when children are playing with a loaded gun without a parent around.

"They are preventable, that's what I'm so mad about," Thomas said.

Sadly, this tragedy involving a child is not an isolated case.

On April 7, deputies said, a 5-year-old boy accidentally shot his 4-year-old sister as their parents slept in a Cross Lanes trailer. Just two days later, in Marion County, an 11-year-old boy was critically injured after being accidentally shot in his home. Fairmont police refuse to release details of that investigation.

Some areas have stepped up to try to stop the tragedies. Twenty-eight states and Washington, D.C., have enacted varying child access prevention laws when it comes to firearms. West Virginia is not one of them.

Law enforcement officers say simple steps can be taken to prevent such incidents from happening.

"All guns in a house where there are children need to be secured in some way. Either locked up, or put away some place where a child can't access it, or have a gun lock like this put on the firearm," said Cpl. Brian Humphreys of the Kanawha County Sheriff's Office.

Humphreys said it is easy to lock up a gun, but realizes some may shy away from it in an effort to keep the firearm accessible in case of an emergency. But he said that still is no excuse to having it accessible to a child.

"Children are aware of where firearms are kept in a home. They pay attention to it -- even if they don't talk about it, even if they don't seem as interested in it. You should just assume that the child knows where firearms are kept and make sure that they can't get access to a loaded weapon," Humphreys said.

Thomas hopes Payton's story will ignite change inside homes with guns and children.

"It's not what happens now, it's what can go on in the future," she said.

Thomas is holding onto her memory in hopes another mother won't find herself where she is.

Eyewitness News and local law enforcement don't want to see tragic circumstances repeated.

From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Eyewitness News and the Kanawha County Sheriff's Office will be handing out free gun locks to anyone who needs them. You can stop by and get one for yourself at Cabela's at Southridge Centre.



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