A 4-year-old boy found a handgun in a bedroom closet and apparently shot and killed himself accidentally early Thursday in his family’s North Philadelphia home, police said.

Police who responded to the house on the 2100 block of North Lambert Street about 1 a.m. were told by the boy’s father that the shooting had occurred during a home-invasion robbery.

But after examining the scene and questioning the 28-year-old father, Edward Williams, detectives believe the boy found the 9mm handgun in a closet and it somehow discharged, Homicide Capt. Jason Smith said.

Detectives do not think the father was with his son, Edward Williams Jr., at the time, but a 3-year-old sibling was, Smith said.

It was not immediately clear whether the father might face charges. Smith said Thursday that Williams had a criminal record that would have barred him from possessing a firearm. Authorities said he was beginning to cooperate with the investigation into the death of his son.

Earlier, acting Police Commissioner Christine Coulter told reporters at the scene that the arriving officers found the father with the 3-year-old on the ground floor. In an upstairs bedroom, they found the boy who had been shot, unresponsive, she said.

Police took the boy to a hospital, where he later was pronounced dead.

The boy’s mother was at work at the time, police said. Investigators later obtained a warrant to look for clues inside the house.

There was little activity outside the home with a red awning Thursday morning, save for a lone police car in front and parents in the area shuffling their children to school. A prayer candle flickered on the sidewalk.

A single candle is lit in front of the porch where a 4-year-old boy was fatally shot on the 2100 block of North Lambert Street in North Philadelphia.
Anna Orso / Staff
A single candle is lit in front of the porch where a 4-year-old boy was fatally shot on the 2100 block of North Lambert Street in North Philadelphia.

Bakir Hill, who lives about a block away, was walking after dropping her son off at school. She said her first thought upon hearing of a child fatally shot was: “Another one?”

“Another one gone to gun violence,” she said. “You’ve got to be kidding me. And for what?”

Hill, a 38-year-old home health aide, said her youngest son, who is 10, wants to walk the couple of blocks to school alone but she won’t let him. “I pray for my kids to just come back from the store safely,” she said.

Bakir Hill, who lives in the neighborhood, talks about safety concerns near the 2100 block of North Lambert Street where a 4-year-old boy was fatally shot Thursday.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
Bakir Hill, who lives in the neighborhood, talks about safety concerns near the 2100 block of North Lambert Street where a 4-year-old boy was fatally shot Thursday.

Elsie Rodriguez said she was shaken awake in the middle of the night by her 11-year-old grandson saying he heard a popping noise. She assumed someone was shot — but never expected a bullet would have found a child.

“I couldn’t go back to sleep after that,” said Rodriguez, 60, who lives next door to the home where the boy was killed. She said she has lived on the block for about three years and doesn’t know the family well, but had played with the young boys outside. The 4-year-old, she said, loved playing with balls and Matchbox cars.

“It’s horrible,” she said. “A little boy, 4 years old, dead.”

Coulter noted that the boy’s death comes after a year in which police confronted an uptick in shootings involving children under 18. There were 115 such victims in 2019.

The incident marked the second shooting this year of a child under age 13, according to police statistics. Two weeks ago, an 18-month toddler was shot in East Germantown when a gunman opened fire on the 100 block of East Pastorius Street.

Last year, 17 preteens were shot, twice as many as the year before and the highest total since at least 2015, the statistics show.

“Unfortunately, officers throughout the city over the last year have been in that situation, you know, and we are very conscious of the help they may also need, too,” Coulter said, according to 6ABC. “A lot of them themselves are parents of young children. To just put a kid, who was shot, in the car, try to save their life, and not have those results. …”

Bobbi Jones, who lives nearby, shivered on the sidewalk and looked at the house where she said she’s played with the young children who live inside. “This has got to be some kind of accident,” she said, shaking her head.

Jones, 48, said she had a couple of nicknames for the 4-year-old boy. Sometimes she called him “little man.” Other times, it was “Bubba,” on account of his chubby cheeks.

As of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, Philadelphia had recorded 36 homicides so far this year, compared with 27 through the same date last year.

Staff writers John Duchneskie and Joseph A. Gambardello contributed to this article.