Arizona boy, 8, dies after being shot with a ‘high powered air rifle,’ sheriff says

An 8-year-old boy died after he was shot in the chest “with a high powered air rifle” by a man firing at targets in Arizona, law enforcement officials said Thursday.

The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office learned about the shooting in the 1000 block of Pottery Lane in St. David at 5:07 p.m. MST on Monday, officials said.

That’s where deputies found the young victim “who had been shot in the center of his chest cavity with a high powered air rifle that shoots” .22-caliber pellets, according to a sheriff’s statement.

This kind of rifle is often used for recreation, though not hunting, Cochise County sheriff’s spokesperson Carol Capas said.

And in this case, the shooter was a man doing target practice when a stray round hit the victim as the youngster rode in a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle being driven by a 10-year-old girl, Capas said.

“It’s quite common, even for kids this age or even younger, to be riding” an ATV in the open spaces of southern Arizona, Capas told NBC News on Thursday. “A house here, you can have two acres, you can have 40 acres.”

The shooter’s identity is known to detectives, who have the weapon and are preparing a report for the county attorney for possible prosecution, officials said. No one was immediately arrested.

“We don’t believe this was an intentional act by any stretch of the imagination,” Capas said. “Not saying this is the case at all here, but (detectives are asking) was there any type of inebriation here? Is there any indication that the person shooting knew or should have reasonably known that this (ATV) would have run in front of him and he shouldn’t have been shooting in that direction?”

Detectives want to know if “anything like that” happened, which “would have been negligent and in disregard for safety standards,” Capas added.

First responders first took the child to “the intersection of Highway 80 and East Apache Powder Road,” about a mile away, where he was going to be picked up by a medical helicopter, the sheriff said.

But rescuers opted, instead, to rush him “via ground to the Benson Hospital for emergency care,” about 6 miles away, officials said.

He was pronounced dead at the hospital at about 6 p.m. on Monday.

The late decision to drive the victim to the hospital instead of using a helicopter didn’t cost first responders any time, Capas added.

This shooting unfolded a little more than 50 miles southeast of the University of Arizona and about 20 miles northwest of the Wild West boomtown of Tombstone.