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By LETITIA STEIN
Family and friends mourn the death of a 4-year-old boy, who apparently accidentally shot himself.
[Times photo: Ken Helle]
TAMPA - The semiautomatic pistol fired once in the bedroom where two children were playing Sunday morning.
Four-year-old Jovan Mitchell crumpled to the floor in his T-shirt and underpants. His 5-year-old cousin ran to get Jovan's mother, who was in another room of the apartment.
She called 911. By the time help arrived, the child had died of a head wound from the 9mm handgun, said J.D. Callaway, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
"It doesn't get any more human than this - a child dead of a gunshot wound," he said. "I cannot imagine anything more tragic than that. Add to that it's the holiday season."
Under Florida law, anyone who stores a loaded gun around children must keep the firearm in a locked box, or somewhere secure from the child's reach. Sheriff's deputies had not determined on Sunday afternoon who owned the gun and no charges were filed.
Officials have to wait seven days before filing charges of culpable negligence related to a juvenile and a gunshot, Callaway said, a requirement that allows emotions to subside.
On Sunday, authorities watched the mother crying hysterically.
Behind the yellow crime scene tape, 18-year-old Charvanette Mitchell, rocked and sobbed as authorities carried her son's body from the second-floor apartment at 5030 E Sligh Ave.
"I want my baby," she wailed. "I want my baby."
After the crime tape was rolled back, friends and relatives circled her and prayed. Leaning into her father's arm, she walked away from the Hunters Pointe apartment complex.
Jovan was her only child, relatives said.
The parents of the 5-year-old cousin, Lyndon Jenkins, called the shooting a tragic accident.
Lyndon told his mother that he was watching television in the bedroom. He said that Jovan had gotten into the closet. Then a gun went off.
"If I knew a gun was around, I wouldn't have come over here," said Lydon's mother, Loretta Denson, 27, the longtime girlfriend of Jovan's great-uncle.
She said guns are forbidden at her Jackson Heights home, where Jovan stayed Mondays through Fridays. "I don't even buy toy guns."
The sheriff's spokesman would not confirm details about where Jovan found the gun. Investigators were looking into where the gun was stored at the apartment, Callaway said.
Relatives doubted that the pistol belonged to Jovan's mother.
"I think this is a case of a bad relationship with someone who's doing wrong things," said great-uncle Lyndon Jenkins, 41, father to the 5-year-old.
As news cameras rolled for interviews, he held his son close.
"You okay, buddy?" Jenkins asked.
The 5-year-old, wearing a red Spider-Man T-shirt, nodded yes.
"You understand what happened?"
But family members said that Lyndon wanted to know why they were crying.
Rubbing his son's head, his father later suggested some ice cream.
Lyndon wanted chocolate.
Like his cousin, Jovan liked Spider-Man and he wanted a little motorcycle for Christmas, Denso n said. Jovan's mother had bought her son a gold necklace with the name "Young Jeezy," a rapper.
Relatives laughed through their tears to recall a child who told adults exactly what he thought. He even told overweight people that they were fat.
Now people thronged the parking lot outside his apartment, where police lights flashed and television vans idled. Children stared from bicycles. Others were clinging to their parents' hands.
When she heard what happened, Erika Burney, 32, walked over from the apartments across the street. She brought her two sons, and two of their friends.
"So they can see the danger of guns," she said. "I'm going to take them to the funeral. I'm going to let them see the little baby casket. They've never seen anything like this."
--Letitia Stein can be reached at 813 661-2443 or email@example.com[Last modified December 19, 2005, 04:58:45]
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