WWU student dies from gunshot wound to head after playing with gun

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 16, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - A Western Washington University student died Friday, Aug. 16, after accidentally shooting himself in the head while playing with a gun, according to the Bellingham Police Department.

Police were called at about 4:10 a.m. to a house in the 900 block of Key Street, where roommates reported that one of the people they lived with, Justin Small, 22, from the Seattle area, had been accidentally shot, said Sgt. Shawn Aiumu. Small was taken to St. Joseph hospital, where he died.

Roommates told police that the semi-automatic handgun that Small accidentally shot himself with had been in a locked safe that belonged to a roommate who had recently moved out.

The roommates had been drinking when one of them found the key and opened the safe, Aiumu said. The roommates took pictures with a .22-caliber rifle that was inside.

Small had been goofing around with the handgun under the assumption that it wasn't loaded, Aiumu said, when he held it up to his head and pulled the trigger. The loaded gun went off.

One of the roommates said that he had warned Small several times to watch out for whether the gun was loaded.

"You've got to treat any gun as loaded, and definitely alcohol and guns don't mix," Aiumu said. "It's something no parent needs to go though."

Police are still investigating the incident, but Aiumu said foul play is not suspected, describing the shooting as an accident.

Reach ZOE FRALEY at zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com or call 756-2803.

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