Toddler dies from gunshot while sitter slept

Melissa Ringhardt

 

A tragic accident in Vidor has resulted in the arrest of a 19-year-old, the death of a 5-year-old boy and the devastation of a family reeling from loss.

According to reports from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, 5-year-old John “Johnny” Allen Read of Vidor was killed Monday, Oct. 21, when a semi-automatic .40-caliber revolver went off in his hands and struck him in the head.

“At about 2:45, our dispatch received a 911 call about a child not breathing,” OCSO Chief Deputy Clint Hodgkinson said in an interview Monday. “When deputies arrived they found a child that was unresponsive and appeared to have a gunshot wound to the head that was fatal.”

The young boy was reportedly at his home with a babysitter who also lived at the residence on Roberts Street in the Quiet Village neighborhood off Highway 12 in Vidor. The babysitter, 19-year-old Melissa Ringhardt, had been staying with the Read family: Johnny Read, parents Kayla and Joe Read, an 18-month old toddler and a 6-month old baby, for approximately two months and had been left in charge of Johnny and his six-month old sibling at the time the shooting occurred, deputies reported. 

Initially, Ringhardt told investigators that she was in another room of the residence and went to check on the children after hearing a noise. Upon questioning, however, Ringhardt admitted to investigators that she had actually been napping in the bedroom of the house and could not find Johnny Read when she awoke. She then reportedly discovered the boy deceased on the floor of the living room with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. She told investigators that she had been carrying the weapon around the house in the waistband of her pants because she was scared to be alone at the residence. The homeowners’ owned the gun and presumably allowed her access to the weapon, which they normally stored in a safe at the home, Hodgkinson said. When she went to the bedroom to sleep, she took the gun from her waistband where she was carrying it and placed it on the coffee table in the living room where the 5-year-old boy had easy access to the loaded weapon, according to OCSO.

After finding the boy injured on the floor of the living room, Ringhardt took Johnny Read and the baby to their grandparents’ house on nearby Scott Road because the residence on Roberts had no telephone. Emergency responders rushed to the scene but were unable to revive the boy, who was pronounced deceased by Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Judge Rodney Price. The child was transported to the Jefferson County Morgue for an autopsy.

“We don’t know all the details,” Hodgkinson said on Oct. 21, also indicating the investigation was ongoing and charges could follow.

The very next day, OCSO deputies reported they arrested Ringhardt at approximately 3 p.m. at a residence off Willow Bend Drive in Vidor without incident. She was booked into the Orange County Jail for abandoning or endangering a child, a state jail felony. She is being held on $250,000 bond.

A Facebook page originally called “Melissa Ringhardt is Guilty” but since renamed “Justice for Johnny” has emerged with the administrators of the page calling for stiff punishment of the allegedly neglectful babysitter. On another Vidor discussion board on the social network, one resident went so far as to question whether or not the child actually pulled the trigger or if the babysitter herself could have held the gun.

OCSO Chief Deputy Hodgkinson said 5-year-old Read was definitely holding the revolver when it discharged.

“We have evidence that supports that the child is actually the one that fired,” Hodgkinson said. “We know he held the gun based on some evidence we had on the scene and based on some results that have come back that show he was the one who shot himself. We don’t think (Ringhardt) did it or anything like that.”

The investigation is not over, according to Hodgkinson, and there is still the potential more charges could be filed.

“We still have an ongoing investigation,” he said on Oct. 23. “The autopsy was done. We still have to get the results back from that. We also have to thoroughly investigate the details in the case itself. I can’t say right now that there will be more charges or whether there will even be more cases brought forward, but at this time we did this (made an arrest) to get the ball rolling. We still have a case to work up on some other things.”

While OCSO investigators and the Orange County District Attorney’s officer do their work filing criminal charges and nailing down details, CPS is also involved.

“CPS is investigating this case alongside law enforcement,” said Shari Pulliam, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services in Beaumont. “We have placed the other two children out with a family relative, which is not uncommon in a CPS case. We do that a lot. We need to see the dynamics of the home, what was going on at the home at the time. So, while we are doing all that, we want to make sure the remaining children in the home are all safe.”

Pulliam said they are just taking precautionary measures and it is no indication that the parents are in any kind of trouble.

Pulliam said she hopes the tragic accident will bring the public’s attention to gun safety issues and educate to the community.

“Be very, very careful,” she warned. “Guns need to be locked up at all times. They need to be under lock and key in the safe. They do not need to be left out anywhere in the house where a child can access the handgun. Whether you put it up high, children are curious. They are going to get a chair and climb up there. You can’t watch them 24 hours a day, so it is better to be safe than sorry. Please keep handguns locked in a safe or in a keyed, secure place. Parents should talk to their children about guns and tell them how dangerous they are, that they are not supposed to touch them, but they also need to make sure they are always under lock and key.”

Chief Deputy Hodgkinson echoed Pulliam’s sentiment and offered some advice of his own.

“The No. 1 rule that we all learn as officers if we go through any specialized training in firearms is to treat every firearm as if it is loaded,” he advised. “Always assume any gun, even if you know it is unloaded and you’ve already inspected and checked it, assume that it is loaded. Never point it in the direction of anyone even if you know it is unloaded. In a home situation where you have a gun that could be loaded and put away, in those circumstances, especially if you have children in the home, you are going to have to lock that weapon up. Keep it where they don’t have access to it, where they can’t get to it. Obviously, you could store it unloaded. There is a gun lock you can run through the magazine and a gun lock you can run through the barrel and even a lock you can put on the trigger itself that you have to have a key to be able to unlock that lock.”

He said Johnny Read’s death could have been avoided if those rules had been followed the day the young boy perished, and cautioned caretakers to be diligent when having children and guns in the same house together.

“The bad thing about ‘accidental’ is it could have been preventable. Kids are curious. Lock up your guns.”

Memorial services for Johnny Read will be Friday, Oct. 25, at 2 p.m. at Memorial Funeral Home in Vidor.

 

Sharon Brooks can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 241, or by e-mail at sharon [at] theexaminer [dot] com.

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