BILLINGS — Saturday night’s accidental shooting that resulted in a 15-year-old killed makes it three teenage shooting deaths in three months in Billings. Police say it’s because children have more access to guns now than ever before.
"What we see is a number of firearms in the residence that are easily accessed and/or loaded," said Billings Police Chief Rich St. John.
The 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey numbers support the assessment. In the anonymous survey, which is used to determine the top causes of social problems among youth, nine percent of Montana high school students say they’ve carried a gun one or more times in the last 12 months, not counting for hunting or shooting sports. That’s 1 in every 11 kids.
St. John says BPD’s forthcoming 2021 annual report shows a similar trend.
"The number of incidents that involved firearms was staggering," he said. "Not every firearm incident resulted in an injury, but there is a significant number of all age groups that were shooting.”
15-year-old Khoen Parker, a sophomore at Senior High, was killed in the early morning hours of January 16 on School District 2 property near Castle Rock Middle School. No arrests have been made in the case, but it points to another survey stat: nine percent of students said they had carried a weapon, such as a gun, knife, or club on school property at least once in the past 30 days.
Saturday’s incident is not being treated as suspicious, but police are continuing an investigation to determine if any charges will be brought.
"A loaded firearm got in the hands of a teenager and we have a fatality, and it could have been avoided," St. John said.
He said it’s a sad story that’s becoming all too common.
"Make sure that the gun are secured, unattainable and that they're not loaded," he said. "There are plenty of tools to make firearms safe in the house, and it has nothing to do with gun control. It's all about securing firearms so family members are safe, and people are not getting into them that aren't supposed to."
And aren’t grieving over the latest tragedy.