TOLEDO, Iowa – They were, says Denise Kirchner, "the worst three hours of my life" — the agonizing moments after her son accidently shot her and her 14-year-old daughter Madison while cleaning his semi-automatic gun in their Iowa home.
Madison skirted death, but survived. She is living proof, her mother says, of what can happen when otherwise responsible gun owners have a safety lapse.
Dylan, 18, had been trying to remove bullets from the chamber of the .40-caliber handgun when it fired, Toledo Police Chief Bob Kendall said. The bullet passed through the left breast of his younger sister Madison, narrowly missing her spine but leaving six holes in her stomach and intestines. It then passed through the thigh of Denise, who was at her kitchen sink doing dishes, before lodging in a cupboard.
"My sister just actually got shot. We were cleaning guns," Dylan told a 911 dispatcher. "Please hurry. She's having trouble breathing. Please hurry."
The accidental shooting last November was one of three involving minors in their rural Iowa county in roughly a year's time; the others ended in deaths for two teenage girls.
The cases also were among more than 1,000 accidental shootings involving minors nationwide over a 2½-year period. The Associated Press and the USA TODAY Network analyzed every such shooting and found that the official tally kept by the federal government undercounts the problem by roughly a third.
Emergency responders came quickly and rushed the daughter and mother to a hospital about 20 miles away. Denise Kirchner's injuries turned out to be minor, but doctors told her Madison would not survive the 17-minute flight to a children's hospital in Des Moines and had to undergo surgery immediately.
She survived the surgery, and a 10-day stay in intensive care.
The high school freshman still suffers from an occasional stomach bleed, has trouble sleeping and is trying to catch up on the weeks of school she missed. But Kendall, the police chief, said it's amazing she survived.
The chief recently brought the girl the bullet, which she might put on a necklace.
Dylan Kirchner is an experienced hunter and marksman who had plans to compete on a sports shooting team at a local community college.
"He knows what he's doing. I just don't know what the deal was that day," Kendall said. "This was an accident, yes. But could it have been prevented? Yeah."
Denise said her son violated a cardinal safety rule: When guns are getting cleaned, nobody else should be in the room.
"You are living proof that obviously we weren't careful enough," Denise tells Madison, hugging her after she returns home from school.
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