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A Texas official faces criminal charge after accidentally shooting his grandson at Nebraska wedding

gavel
Posted at 1:37 PM, Oct 04, 2023

A Texas county commissioner is facing a possible felony charge in Nebraska after accidentally shooting his 12-year-old grandson during a wedding he was officiating.

The shooting happened Saturday evening at a wedding being held outdoors near the small town of Denton in southeastern Nebraska, when Michael Gardner, 62, of Odessa, Texas, pulled out a revolver, intending to fire a blank round into the air to signal the start of the ceremony. But as he was cocking the gun's hammer, it fired, hitting the boy just below his left shoulder.

"I really don't know exactly what happened," Gardner told The Associated Press on Wednesday from Beatrice, Nebraska, where he's been staying since the incident. "I've been around guns all my life, and I've never had anything like this happen."

Gardner, an Ecto County Commissioner in Texas, said he was officiating the wedding of his nephew at an outdoor venue about 10 miles southwest of the capital city of Lincoln. Gardner said he made the blank round himself, using an empty shell, some black gunpowder and hot glue to hold it together. It was the dried glue that hit the boy and caused the injury, officials believe. A news release from law enforcement said Gardner fired the gun to get the attention of people attending the wedding, but Gardner said that's a mischaracterization.

"The gun was scripted into the wedding," Gardner explained. "The gun was fired to signal the music to start and for the bride to start her march down the aisle."

The boy was taken by ambulance to a Lincoln hospital, then to Children's Hospital in Omaha, where he received stitches and was released. He's expected to fully recover.

Gardner said he was with the child for all of it.

"I never left his side," Gardner said. "There is nobody who feels worse about this than I do. I'm not sure I'll ever get over it."

Gardner turned himself in Monday to the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office, which has recommended a charge of felony child abuse — a count that carries a sentence of up to three years in prison and is usually reserved for intentional abuse resulting in injury. Gardner was booked and posted a $1,000 bond to be released from jail.

"Just another example that playing with firearms — no matter what, even if they're blanks — bad things can certainly happen," Chief Deputy Ben Houchin said following Gardner's arrest. "We do not believe Michael intended to hurt his grandchild, but the act was not very smart."

In another unusual move, prosecutors have not charged Gardner with a crime. A hearing was held Tuesday in which prosecutors said they will decide by a scheduled Nov. 3 arraignment what charges — if any — will be filed against Gardner.

Lancaster County Chief Deputy Attorney Chris Turner acknowledged that Tuesday's anticipatory arraignment hearing was a departure from the norm, noting that a follow-up arraignment is usually held a day or two after such a hearing.

"We're still investigating," Turner said Wednesday when asked why no charges had been filed.

Gardner recognized that a felony charge could mean the end of his political career. Gardner is three years into his first term as Ecto County Commissioner and has plans to seek reelection next year. Those with felony convictions are ineligible to hold the office, he said.

"Politically, whatever happens, happens," he said. "And I'll live with that. I would never make excuses for what happened. The responsibility lies with me."

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