Texas official faces criminal charges after accidentally shooting grandson

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

The shooting occurred Saturday night at an outdoor wedding near the small southeastern Nebraska town of Denton, when Michael Gardner, 62, of Odessa, Texas, pulled out a revolver with the intention of of firing a blank bullet into the air to signal the start. of the ceremony. But while he was cocking the hammer of the gun, 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 has been staying since the incident. "I've been around guns my whole life and nothing like this has ever happened to me."

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

"The gun was included in the wedding script," Gardner explained. “The gun was fired to signal for the music to begin and for the bride to begin her march toward the altar.”

The boy was taken by ambulance to a Lincoln hospital and then to Omaha Children's Hospital, where he received stitches and was discharged. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Gardner said he was with the boy throughout the entire process.

“I never left his side,” Gardner said. “There is no one who feels worse about this than me. “I’m not sure I’ll ever get over it.”

Gardner turned himself in Monday to the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office, which recommended a charge of felony child abuse, a charge that carries a sentence of up to three years in prison and is usually reserved for intentional abuse that results in injury. Gardner was booked and given a $1,000 bond to get out of jail.

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

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

Lancaster County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Chris Turner acknowledged Tuesday's early arraignment hearing was a departure from the norm, noting that a follow-up arraignment usually takes place one or two days after said hearing.

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

Gardner acknowledged that a felony charge could mean the end of his political career. Gardner is three years into his first term as an Ecto County commissioner and plans to seek re-election next year. Those with felony convictions are not eligible to hold office, he said.

“Politically, whatever happens, will happen,” he said. “And I will live with that. I would never make excuses for what happened. The responsibility is mine.”

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