Man’s handgun-holstering practice killed girl, 9

Shayla May Shonneker in an undated family photo. (KOIN 6 News)
Shayla May Shonneker in an undated family photo. (KOIN 6 News)

GLADSTONE,Ore. (KOIN) — Counselors were available at John Wetten Elementary school to help the classmates of Shayla May Shonneker deal with her death on Sunday.

The 9-year-old was shot in the head by her mother’s boyfriend, Joseph Wolters, as he was practicing holstering his handgun inside for a job at a security position for an armored transport company. Suddenly the gun went off and a bullet flew through a wall out into the backyard — striking Shayla at least 40 feet away.

“I heard the gunshot,” neighbor Cindy Gill told KOIN. “He was screaming.”

Gill’s house overlooks the backyard where 9-year-old Shayla was shot.  The retired nurse rushed over to try to help. She said she saw 32-year-old Joseph Wolters trying to give Shayla CPR.

“He was begging her not to die,” Gill said. “He said, ‘Keep breathing baby.'”

Wolters is an Iraq War veteran and a reservist who neighbors said had lived at the house for some time. Shayla is described as a warm, friendly girl who played with the neighbor kids — some now traumatized by what happened, parents told KOIN 6 News.

On Monday Gladstone Superintendent Bob Stewart said a statement was prepared to be read to all students at area schools.

John Wetten Elementary in Gladstone (April 15, 2013)
John Wetten Elementary in Gladstone (April 15, 2013)

“We activated our crisis response team with our district, which also includes Clackamas and Oregon City school districts. And we have numerous counselors in the building today.”

The number one thing parents can do to help their children deal, he said, is to listen. If they have more needs, the school is available for extra help.

Shonneker is survived by her mother, father and 12-year-old brother. Wolters had a 4-year-old son with Shonneker’s mother.

Oregon City police did not immediately confirm if Wolters would face any criminal charges. Detectives are still gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses.

“While we’re fairly certain it was not intentional, was it reckless or negligent?” said a law enforcement source. “That’s what the DA will figure out.”

In a statement released Monday, the girl’s family said:

“We are saddened and shocked at the events that unfolded yesterday.  Our little Shayla was playing outside when she was struck by a bullet.  Trying to understand and comprehend the actions that led to the shooting are more than our family can deal with right now.  It is more important that we deal with the very personal loss of Shayla.  We know that this was an accident and there was no intent to harm Shayla in any way.  

Please give our family the respect and privacy we need to both grieve and begin the healing process.  We are releasing this letter in an effort to give the media information, hoping that in return they will give us the space we need.

We welcome thoughts and prayers on the community Facebook page at “‘In Loving Memory of Shayla.'”

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