Nine-year-old Olivia Hummel walked into a room where her brothers and dad were early Saturday evening, when he told them, “See? Don’t play with guns,” authorities said.
According to Chicago Tribune, Just then, her father inadvertently shot Olivia once in the head, according to court records and Hobart Lt. James Gonzales. She died less than a half-hour later, authorities said.
Eric Hummel, 33, was charged Monday with neglect of a dependent resulting in death, battery resulting in death to a person less than 14 years old, reckless homicide, and two counts of neglect of a dependent, all felonies, Lake County court records show.
Investigations into the death of a child are “always extremely difficult,” but “this was not just another accidental discharge of a firearm,” Hobart Police Chief Richard Zormier said at a Monday afternoon press conference.
“I believe this was a series of heinous and depraved acts committed by a suspect on June the 10th. His actions that day endangered the lives of all three children and ultimately stole the life of Olivia, an innocent 9-year-old little girl,” Zormier said. “His actions caused the death of Olivia and likely scarred the boys emotionally for life.”
Police were called around 5 p.m. Saturday to the home in the 100 block of East 10th Street in Hobart, Gonzales said.
An officer was directed upstairs, where he found Eric Hummel kneeling next to his daughter, who was lying in a bedroom doorway, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in court.”She’s dead, she’s dead. I thought it was empty,” Hummell told the officer, according to the affidavit.
He told the officer, “I was showing the boys the gun and told them not to ever play with it because it can kill someone. Then she walked in the room and I pointed it at her and pulled the trigger, thinking it was empty,” the affidavit states.
The officer began chest compressions before Olivia was transported to St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart where she was pronounced dead at 5:25 p.m., according to court records.
Olivia’s death was ruled a homicide after an autopsy Monday morning at the Lake County Coroner’s Office, Gonzales said. She had been shot once in the head, from about 2 to 3 feet away, Gonzales said.
The girl’s brothers told police that they had been cleaning their room when Eric Hummel came in with his 9 mm Glock model 17 and said things such as, “You should never mess with the gun,” the affidavit states.
One brother said his father had pointed it at him two or three times and the gun made “a little pop sound,” according to the affidavit. Eric Hummel pulled the top of the gun back once and had forgotten he “put the bullets back in” when he “shot our sister,” a brother told police, according to the affidavit.
During subsequent questioning, an officer noted that “Hummel’s eyes had a red ring around them, as if he had cried earlier. His hands were also trembling,” according to court records.
At one point, Eric Hummel asked to call the girl’s mother, and the officer heard him say on the phone, “I shot her, I’m so sorry,” and that, “he was showing the boys the gun and it was stupid, it was so stupid,” according to the affidavit.
Eric Hummel later stopped talking to police and requested an attorney, Gonzales said.
Joan Martin Elementary School, where Olivia went to school, posted on its Facebook page on Sunday, “Our hearts are sadden and oh so heavy by the loss of Olivia. She was a ray of sunshine at Joan Martin School. She will always be a precious memory for those who knew her because she was adorable and filled with such joy.”
Rhiannon Jolliff, Olivia’s first grade teacher, said that, “Olivia was a sweet and caring girl who wore her heart on her sleeve. She was curious and smart, and always strived to do her best and make her teachers and family proud. Her smile brightened any room and hugs were her specialty.”
Counselors were made available at the school Monday and Tuesday at the school for parents and students, and a card-making area was set up “for children to express their hearts and minds for Olivia and her family,” the school’s Facebook post states.
A candlelight vigil is scheduled in her memory at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hobart High School’s football field.
Zormier and Gonzales said the department expressed its “deepest condolences” to Olivia’s family in this “senseless tragedy.”
Gonzales said that Eric Hummel “had every legal right to own the gun,” and a Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms trace had not been completed Monday to determine who originally purchased the gun.
Gonzales also said there was no indication Eric Hummel was intoxicated at the time of the incident.
Police do not expect anyone else to be charged in the case, Gonzales said.
“This event has impacted each and every officer and civilian staff member at the police department,” Gonzales said. “It has put in perspective how fragile life is.”
He said that, “this gentleman’s acts were neglectful and this was not an accident.”
Byron Gentry, owner of Infinity Solutions in Porter County, said such “tragedies are absolutely terrible but they’re 100 percent avoidable.” Infinity Solutions provides firearm training and safety classes, and Gentry stressed that safety is “the most important part of gun ownership.”
Gentry said when handling a gun, people should assume it’s loaded until proven otherwise. People also should practice muzzle discipline and be conscious of where the gun is pointing at all times,Gentry said. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot, Gentry said, because “guns don’t go off by themselves.”
Indiana has the seventh highest rate of accidental child shootings, according to an analysis released last fall by the Associated Press and USA TODAY Network looking at shootings nationally from 2014 until last year. Gary had the second highest number with five, second to 11 in Indianapolis.