FORT WAYNE – By the time police officers arrived, the house on Hanna Street was teeming with people.
Some had been there the entire time, they said, while others were just arriving after word spread about what happened.
None of them seemed to be able to give the officers a straight or consistent story, according to police reports.
How exactly did a 3-year-old girl end up with a bullet wound to her leg Tuesday night?
If one man’s interview with detectives turns out to be true, the shooting may have been an accident.
Leaving a loaded gun within reach of a child.
Fort Wayne police officers responded to a call for problem unknown just after 10:15 p.m. at a home in the 2900 block of South Hanna Street, between Pontiac and Colerick streets.
Once there, officers determined that a toddler had been shot, and they began sifting through people’s various stories.
A woman who identified herself as the child’s mother said she had taken her daughter and her two other children outside with her to get into a van parked in the alley.
At some point, the woman said, she heard a shot ring out, then a scream and then the crying of her 3-year-old.
She said she did not see anything or anyone outside and ran into the home with the toddler.
Soon thereafter, police spoke with a man in the home who claimed that he – not the mother – had been in the backyard of the home with the 3-year-old at the time of the shooting.
He heard two shots, he said in a police report, then ran into the home and upstairs with the child.
Speaking with another officer, he said he was outside warming up the van and that he had it running for 15 or 20 minutes.
Identifying himself at the time as the child’s father, he said he was getting ready to take the child to his mother’s.
In one report, an officer noted that the van did not appear to have been turned on at all.
Officers began searching the home for a gun, according to one report, and found one.
Following footprints that led from a second-story window, officers found a black .380-caliber handgun on the roof.
The man who initially identified himself as the 3-year-old’s father – and who was described as the most emotional of everyone in the house – was eventually taken to the department’s detective bureau.
There, he admitted to not actually being the girl’s father, but like a father to her because her biological dad was not around, he said.
He also admitted that he had bought the gun a week ago as protection because the family had been receiving threats.
Tuesday night, he set the loaded gun on a table and left the room for a moment, he said.
At first, the man said the gun had just gone off – he did not know how – and the bullet had struck the girl.
After some prodding from detectives, he finally admitted that he saw the toddler with the gun as he walked back into the room.
The man, who was not identified in the report and who cried during the interview, also said the girl dropped the gun.
That’s when it fired, he said.
The toddler was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to the police report.
The Department of Child Services was called in to investigate.
Officials with the agency ordered that the man whom police interviewed stay away from the home and the family until the agency was finished with the investigation.
The man was not arrested Tuesday night and had not been arrested or charged with a crime as of Wednesday afternoon.
Police drove him to a different home and dropped him off after his interview with detectives.