UPDATED at 10:20 a.m.
Tacoma police say a 3-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed himself early today while his mother was inside a convenience store.
The child and his younger sister were in a car with their mother and her boyfriend, police spokesman Naveed Benjamin said.
The boyfriend stopped just before 12:30 a.m. to get gas at a station in the 5400 block of Tacoma Mall Boulevard, police reported. (The adults and children were riding in a vehicle with Oregon plates but the boy lived in Tacoma.)
The man told police that he put his loaded handgun under the driver’s side seat and got out to pump gas. The mother, meanwhile, got out of the car and went into the convenience store, police reported.
The siblings were inside the car. The boy got out of his car seat.
“He makes his way to the front to find this pistol,” Benjamin said.
The gun fired, striking the boy in the head. Paramedics took the boy to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Benjamin said.
The girl, believed to be about 1, was not injured.
Tacoma police detectives responded to the gas station and interviewed the mother and boyfriend. Both were later released.
Benjamin said the boyfriend had a concealed weapons permit and legally owned the gun that killed the boy.
Under state law, people with concealed weapons permits can have their weapons in the car with them but they either need to have them on their person or unloaded and in a locked container, Benjamin said.
“If you have a concealed weapon permit and you are traveling, the weapon has to be on you,” he said. “The key issue is to have control of your weapon.”
Tacoma police haven’t released why the man put his gun under the seat and why the adults and children were driving around after midnight.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office has not released the boy’s name.
The boy’s death is the third shooting of a child in recent weeks in western Washington.
The 7-year-old daughter of a Marysville police officer in Stanwood was shot on Saturday when a sibling found a gun and fired while the parents were out of their car. She died the next day.
On Feb. 22, an 8-year-old girl was critically wounded in a Bremerton classroom when a gun fired from the backpack of a 9-year-old boy as he put it on a desk.
“It’s another tragedy in a very short period of time,” Benjamin said.
It highlights the need for people to secure guns, he said.
“You can’t predict what children are going to do,” he said. “You need to unload and lock it up if you’re not carrying it.”
“And keep it out of the hands of children,” Benjamin said. “It’s really not that hard to practice firearm safety.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.