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Tot finds gun in SUV, accidentally shoots uncle in Center City

The weapon belonged to another uncle, an off-duty Philadelphia Housing Authority police officer.

Philadelphia police crime scene officers beside the SUV in which a child accidentally shot his uncle at 16th and Arch Streets.
Philadelphia police crime scene officers beside the SUV in which a child accidentally shot his uncle at 16th and Arch Streets.Read moreJulie Shaw / Staff

The 3-year-old nephew of a Philadelphia Housing Authority police officer retrieved his uncle's gun from under the front passenger seat of an SUV and accidentally shot and wounded another uncle in the vehicle in Center City on Friday morning, police said.

The 24-year-old victim was reported in stable condition at Hahnemann University Hospital with a gunshot wound to the right shoulder.

Police gave this account of the shooting, which occurred about 11:30 a.m. on the 1600 block of Arch Street:

Two brothers, their nephew, and the boy's grandmother drove to Center City in the silver Dodge Journey and stopped at City Hall, where one of the men, the off-duty Housing Authority officer, had personal business.

The officer got out of the car, then returned and put his handgun under the passenger seat before entering City Hall.

His brother then drove to the 1600 block of Arch and parked; the grandmother got out to take care of some chores, leaving the boy in a child seat in the backseat.

The boy got out of the car seat and found the officer's personal 9 mm semiautomatic pistol. The boy fired one shot, said Sgt. Eric Gripp, a police spokesman at the scene, and the bullet went through his uncle's shoulder, lodging in the mirror on the driver's door.

"It's a terrible accident," said Gripp. "We preach gun safety day in and day out. A weapon should always be secured."

Investigators were interviewing the woman and the off-duty officer at Central Detectives. No charges were immediately filed, and police did not identify the officer or his relatives, or say how long he has been on the force. Gripp said the boy's mother is the sister of the two men.

Nichole Tillman, a PHA spokeswoman, said in an email: "Based on the information we have at this point, we are deeply concerned about the incident that took place involving a PHA police officer. Like all of our officers, the individual involved is a graduate of the Police Academy, trained in the proper and responsible care of weapons.

"Our police officers understand the immense responsibility they are charged with, and as such, we are taking this matter very seriously," she added. "The officer will be placed on immediate suspension, and we will take appropriate action with respect to his future status once we have completed our investigation. Our concern and prayers now are with the young man who was wounded."

Staff writer Joseph A. Gambardello contributed to this article.