Man accidentally shoots grandson, 12, while officiating wedding in Nebraska

Mugshot of Michael Gardner, 62 (left), alongside a file photo of a wedding altar. Gardner was arrested for child abuse on Oct. 2, 2023 after he accidentally shot his own grandson while officiating a wedding. Lancaster County Department of Corrections/Getty Images

A 62-year-old grandfather has been arrested for child abuse after he accidentally shot his own grandson in the shoulder while officiating a wedding, local police say.

Michael Gardner of Odessa, Texas, was in Denton, Neb., with family members for a wedding on Saturday afternoon when he “decided to gain everyone’s attention and start the wedding with a bang,” Chief Deputy Ben Houchin said in a Monday press conference.

Police learned that Gardner pulled out a revolver and attempted to shoot it in the air when it slipped and went off early, hitting Gardner’s 12-year-old grandson, who was standing close by.

The Pietta 1860 snub nose revolver had been loaded with a homemade blank, made out of .45 colt ammunition that Gardner filled with black powder and glued shut. Houchin said it’s believed the glue is what struck and injured the child.

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The 12-year-old boy was hit in the left shoulder and rushed to a local hospital before he was transported to a medical facility in Omaha for further treatment. His injuries were non-life-threatening.

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Gardner turned himself in to police on Monday morning and was arrested for felony child abuse “for neglectfully firing a firearm and injuring someone,” Houchin said.

He added that police don’t believe Gardner “intended to hurt his grandchild.” Nevertheless, “the act was not very smart,” Houchin said.

“Playing with firearms, no matter what … bad things can certainly happen.”

During the investigation, police learned that the wedding was running about 45 minutes late because “somebody forgot the rings.” That’s why partygoers were dispersed around the event space and needed to be gathered for the ceremony to begin.

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Gardner has yet to be officially charged by the county attorney, Houchin says. When asked by a reporter why Gardner was arrested if the incident was accidental, the chief deputy explained that the crime fit the statute of child abuse.

The use of a firearm and the “seriousness of the injury” sustained by the child also contributed to law enforcement’s decision to arrest the grandfather.

“It’s just kind of neglectful to take a gun out that has blanks and fire it amongst people,” Houchin added.

Police do not believe alcohol was involved in the incident. The weapon, ammunition and spent casing have all been recovered by investigators.

Gardner is expected to make a court appearance in the coming days, local broadcaster KLKN reports.

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