Las Vegas Sun

December 14, 2018

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Parents, Metro officer share personal tragedies of accidental child shootings

Mohler

METRO POLICE

From left, Metro Police Officer Jason Cunningham, Darchel Mohler and Jason Mohler. Darchel Mohler is holding a photo of Brooklynn, her 13-year-old daughter killed in an accidental shooting in 2013 that stemmed from an unsecure gun.

Five years removed, this bleak summer afternoon remains etched in Jason Cunningham’s memory.

Cunningham was the first Metro Police cop to arrive to a shooting call at this south valley house.

When he walked in, Jason Mohler was already there — on the floor — performing CPR on his daughter, Brooklynn, who’d suffered a gunshot wound in the chest. She was shot by her best friend, who’d been tinkering with her father’s gun.

Mohler had pulled up to Brooklynn’s friend’s house after school to take her home but instead found himself trying to save her life.

He couldn’t. She was 13.

When Cunningham thinks about that June 4, 2013, call, which he says remains painful, his memory travels further back to when he was age 4, when he suffered an unintended gunshot wound. That time, it was he who pulled the trigger.

Cunningham joined Jason and Darchel Mohler on Thursday to discuss how their lives intersected in an emotional and candid conversation about gun safety. They sat in a room at Metro headquarters, a photo of Brooklynn and a box of tissues between them.

Their daughter’s preventable death “changed everything,” Darchel Mohler said. “As much as I wish I had my old life back and my family intact, it’s not going to happen. So we share our story in hopes that nobody ever has to walk this journey, walk these steps … It’s a nightmare.”

Immediately after Brooklynn’s death, her parents became staunch advocates of safekeeping weapons.

“There is a discussion that can be had about guns that’s not political,” Jason Mohler said. “This is not about rights, this is not about anything other than trying to keep kids in a safer situation.”

Their goal is that by telling their stories, gun owners will be encouraged to secure their firearms to prevent a tragedy.

Metro has investigated three such tragedies this year, Officer Jay Rivera said. One is too many, he noted.

It was after midnight one day in 1975, and Cunningham’s father and his brother had gone to sleep. The little boy found his dad’s revolver.

He stood in front of the television, which broadcast static. “I tried to shoot the gun because that’s what they do on TV.”

His finger wasn’t strong enough, so he turned the gun on himself, trying to pull it with both thumbs. This time the trigger clicked.

He almost lost his life, he said, and spent months in the hospital. That day was the last he saw his father, who died in a car accident before he recovered, he said. “Unfortunately, (that was) part of the tragedy that I never got to resolve.”

Though he responded to the shooting and had experienced a less tragic outcome, Cunningham waited a couple of years before he connected with the Mohlers. It’d been too painful, he said.

“It’s hard for me because — again — my story, I’ve come to grips with, it doesn’t affect me anymore, he said. “Brooklynn’s story still does, and I’m OK with that.”

He wouldn’t be if it came to the point when a child’s death did not stir him. If so, he would be done and wouldn’t “want to be a cop anymore.”

They held a long and teary discussion at a Starbucks and have worked together ever since.

Shootings from unattended guns can happen to anyone and anywhere. Being overprotective parents, the Mohlers warned Brooklynn about the dangers out there, including trivial ones, but never thought about guns at other houses she might be in.

Parents who train their children to handle them might underestimate their curiosities, the Mohlers said.

A public service announcement with Cunningham’s testimony went online, and a comment was pointed out to him. “I have a shotgun next to my bed, and a .357 on my shelf, and my kid knows never to touch them.”

Darchel let out an audible gasp.

The comment prompted Cunningham to grab the .22-caliber casing from the round that he’d pumped into his stomach, and held it between two fingers.

“This almost killed me, and this is a very, very small projectile. A shotgun is a deadly weapon. A .357 is a deadly weapon that will kill whatever it is pointed at when the trigger is pulled. And that’s a shame to hear. That kind of hurts, because it’s going to be an avoidable tragedy … it’s just a matter of time.”

Brooklynn is still fondly remembered.

She was a competitive gymnast and an honor student who was loved by her peers and teachers, a profession she wanted to pursue in her adult life. After all, she would mentor neighborhood children and also care for stray animals.

If she walked past dirty dishes, she would clean them without being asked.

“There are so many things about her that I would love to share if I could just talk about her for days,” Darchel Mohler said before pausing, “she’s missed every day, every second.”