The stories of two toddlers who fatally shot themselves within a week of each other made national headlines.
Two-year-old Kiyan Shelton Enoch accidentally shot himself on April 20 with a gun he found stashed in his mother’s purse. Holston Cole, 3, died from a self-inflicted gun wound on April 26 after discovering a gun in his dad’s book bag.
The tragic deaths of the two toddlers were eerily similar, but their parents faced totally different outcomes. One parent was criminally charged while the other was not.
The Indianapolis Star reports that Kiyan’s mother, Kanisha Shelton, who is African-American, was charged Tuesday with a felony count of neglect of a dependent resulting in death. She was arrested but has since been released on bond with an initial court hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday, according to the Marion County prosecutor’s office and jail records.
In contrast, Holston’s parents, David and Haley Cole, got word from the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office Thursday that they would not face charges in the death of their son, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The Coles are white.
Per Raw Story, four other toddlers fatally shot themselves the week Kiyan and Holston did, bringing the total up to 23 toddlers who have accidentally shot themselves or someone else since Jan. 1, 2016.
Although the state of Indiana and Georgia have differing gun laws, the decision in the Cole’s case sheds light on inconsistencies regarding criminal charges brought against parents whose children fatally shoot themselves.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia currently doesn’t have any laws in place that dictate how a gun should be stored. Parents can, however, be criminally charged if they knowingly or intentionally give a child access to a handgun.
Just this year, seven kids have been accidentally shot in Georgia, and three, including Holston, were killed, according to Dr. Viviana Goldenberg, who is a spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action. Per the AJC, her organization is part of a larger group called Everytown For Gun Safety, which advocates for gun safety measures.
In comparison to Georgia, Indiana allows charges against parents whose children find guns and fatally shoot themselves or another person, Raw Story reports.
The Shelton and Cole cases spotlight a trend that suggests white parents are more likely to escape criminal charges in the accidental shooting deaths of their children than Black parents.
For example, an African-American man named Demarqo Smith was charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct when his 6-year-old daughter found a loaded found a gun wedged between the couch cushions in their Atlanta apartment.
Raw Story reports that another Black man, Christopher Ashkins, was charged with second-degree child cruelty, possession of a gun by a convicted felon and drug possession in November after his girlfriend’s two year old son unintentionally shot himself in the face at the family’s apartment in Atlanta.
Yet, authorities decided not to charge Atlanta man Grant Dennington, who is white, when his 2-year-old got a hold of a gun he left in the bed. The toddler fatally shot himself while his father was in the bathroom.
Another case involving the accidental shooting of a toddler turns this trend on it’s head however. According to The Indianapolis Star, two white parents face a fate similar to Kanisha Shelton’s. The publication reports that Nicholas Gulling and Sandra Tomich were both charged in 2014 when their 3-year-old son found a gun on the kitchen counter and shot himself in the head.
Per Marion Superior Court records, Gulling pleaded guilty to felony neglect of a dependent on March 22 and could face up to 10 years behind bars. Tomich’s case is still pending, The Indianapolis Star reports.