Sheriff emphasizes gun safety following 3-year-old’s death

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The 3-year-old son of a Clark County Sheriff’s detective died Wednesday morning after he accidentally shot himself in the head with his father’s handgun.

Ryan Owens died at 2 a.m. at Portland’s Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.

His father, Detective Ed Owens, was off-duty and home at the time of the shooting, 10 p.m. Tuesday. It is unclear how the child obtained the weapon.

Wednesday evening, Lt. Roy Butler with the Battle Ground Police Department said he could not reveal how the accident occurred because detectives were still conducting interviews of those involved.

Once the joint agency police investigation is completed, it will be sent to the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office for review, Butler said.

The weapon involved was not issued by the sheriff’s office, but the tragedy nonetheless opened a window to discuss where department-issued weapons must be kept and how private firearms should be stored.

A policy requiring department-controlled guns be stored in a lock box was implemented seven years ago after the accidental shooting death of 10-year-old Emilee Randall, daughter of another sheriff’s deputy. Clark County Sheriff Garry Lucas told media assembled at sheriff’s headquarters Wednesday that Emilee’s picture sits beside his gun safe.

“I look at her face when I put my gun in every night,” Lucas said. “It’s just a reminder.”

A fresh reminder came at about 10 p.m. Tuesday inside the 800 block of Southeast 11th Street in Battle Ground when Ryan shot himself with his father’s gun.

The unconscious child was rushed by ambulance to Emanuel, where he died hours later.

“This is a tragedy for the family involved and our agency,” said Lucas, who spent the night at the hospital with Ed and Kristie Owens. “They’re absolutely devastated. I’m heartbroken for the family.”

Tragic reminder

The case is being investigated jointly by detectives with the Battle Ground Police Department, Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Vancouver Police Department.

All indications are that the shooting was accidental. “I’d be surprised if it were otherwise,” Lucas said.

There was little activity outside the Owenses’ home Wednesday morning, except the TV news trucks parked about a block away. A sheriff’s vehicle was in front of the home.

In January 2003, Emilee Randall was shot by her brother, Matthew Randall, then 13, inside their home in the Battle Ground area. Sgt. Craig Randall had left his duty weapon, a semiautomatic pistol, loaded on a dresser in the master bedroom. He and his wife, Marilee Randall, were not home at the time of the shooting.

The death spurred the sheriff’s office to institute its policy requiring all department-issued weapons to be stored in a lock box when at home. Lucas went on to wage a successful campaign to make safe storage a requirement for the state and national accreditation of law enforcement agencies.

The policy does not mandate storage of privately owned guns but “employees are encouraged to use safe storage techniques” for those firearms as well, according to a statement.

He said the department’s policy will be reviewed. It’s unclear how the policy could be strengthened without threatening employees’ Second Amendment rights, Lucas said.

“I can’t express the frustration I’ve felt and still feel to know that we’ve lost another life,” Lucas said. “I think that we’ve tried to do our best.”

As he spoke, a gun safe rested on a table next to the podium. Lucas added after the press conference that locking a gun inside a safe isn’t always convenient. That’s why he’s carefully positioned Emilee’s photograph.

“Every time, I am reminded of the importance of safe storage,” Lucas said.

Owens has been with the sheriff’s office since 2004. He previously served in the military, Lucas said.

“He’s an extremely caring individual,” the sheriff said. “He’s a decent human being.”

Lucas said counseling would be offered to help first-responders move on from the trauma of Ryan’s death.

“It has a devastating effect on the whole organization when you have a tragedy like this,” he said. “It simply can’t be put into words.”