After a 2-year-old's tragic death, a father's plea for gun safety
The toddler accidentally killed himself with the father's gun. "I watched my little boy's life leave his body," said Nicholas Wyllie, choking back tears as he recalled the September 2014 incident.
In September, 2-year-old Benjamin Smith picked up his father's loaded handgun in a bedroom of their Bucks County home, then accidentally pulled the trigger.
"I watched my little boy's life leave his body as I frantically tried to bring him back," his father, Nicholas Wyllie, said Thursday, choking back tears. "This tragedy can happen to anybody."
Wyllie pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to one to two years in prison, the maximum sentence.
At a news conference Thursday in Doylestown, he urged other parents to learn from his mistake as the county launched "Ben's Campaign -- Lock It Up," an initiative to provide all Bucks County gun owners with free firearms locks.
The locks fit on any firearm and make it impossible to insert a magazine, or for a chamber to close and the gun to fire.
"This tragedy is all the worse because it was 100 percent preventable," said District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub. With "a $1.50 gun lock, Benjamin Smith would be alive and here with us today." The child would have turned 3 this month.
At least 238 people have died in accidental shootings involving children since 2015 and 379 have been injured, according to an estimate from Everytown for Gun Safety. The group has counted 75 so far in 2017.
Wyllie, a former Army infantryman who grew up using firearms, implored parents not to dismiss his story as something that couldn't happen to them or to believe it was just the fault of "an idiot with a gun."
He said he always believed his guns were secure -- keeping his rifles on the top shelf of his closet and a pistol on his hip except when he put it on his nightstand. On that September morning, Wyllie hadn't gotten dressed yet, so the gun was still on the nightstand, where the toddler found it.
"What you think being safe is might not be safe enough," Wyllie said. "It just took one missed step in my daily routine to create the current hell that my life has become."
Weintraub said the county launched Ben's Campaign after a review of the incident. Wyllie already had distributed gun locks in Philadelphia before he was sentenced, and will complete gun safety-related community service as part of his sentence.
The county is starting with 1,500 locks, which will be available at all local police stations, and hopes to continue the program for years, Weintraub said.
The locks will also be offered to anyone applying for a permit to carry a gun, and county child protection workers will distribute them on house calls.
Officials also said parents should lock up guns and ammunition in separate places and should speak to their children about gun safety.
"Please, for the love of God, listen to me and learn from me," Wyllie said. "Get that thought of 'it can't happen to me' out of your head. Because it could."