NOBLE, Okla. – A stray bullet fired by a police officer trying to shoot a snake hit and killed a 5-year-old boy fishing at a nearby pond, officials said.
Austin Haley was fishing with his grandfather, Jack Tracy, Friday evening when Tracy said he heard a shot and saw a bullet hit the water just a few feet in front of the boat dock where he was standing.
Moments later, a second shot was fired that hit Austin in the head.
A Noble police officer who had responded to a report of a snake in a tree apparently fired the deadly shot while trying to kill the snake, according to City Manager Bob Wade.
Tracy said he initially thought he and his grandson were under attack by someone trying to kill them, so he put the boy into the back of a 4-wheeler and drove to his daughter's house about 200 yards away.
"Then two officers came out of the brush over there," he told The Oklahoman. "They didn't tell us they were the ones who had been shooting or that they had shot him. They didn't admit a doggone thing."
The boy was taken to an Oklahoma City hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
A resident of the Crest Lane neighborhood called police after discovering a large snake in a tree, Wade said.
"I was told that they tried several ways to get the snake down, but it was still hissing at them and firmly lodged," Wade said. "What I was told is that the owner of the home either suggested or agreed that they should go ahead and shoot the snake, and then everything happened from there."
Wade refused to identify the officer suspected of firing the shots but said the officer has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
"This is so bizarre it has to be fully investigated. ... We're pretty sure circumstantially that it is the bullet from the police officer's gun, but it might be a bullet from someone else," Wade said.
A state investigation has been launched into the shooting, and it appears the fatal shot was fired by the officer, said Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Jessica Brown.
"We have no reason to believe it's not," Brown said. "But there certainly will be an investigation."
Tracy has little doubt about what happened.
"I'm not saying the cop shot him on purpose," Tracy said. "It was an accident. But let me tell you — if I had a kid and put him in this car and didn't put him in a car seat and he got killed on the way to town, they'd charge me with murder ... and what this cop did is a lot worse than that."