Fifth-grader Ian Sevostjanov was getting ready for school Thursday morning when he got himself in trouble.
The 10-year-old boy was sent to a room by his mom, Olga Grusetskaja, 49, in the apartment where their family lives in Clearwater, Fla., authorities said. Grusetskaja was “addressing a behavioral issue,” according to police.
In the room, Ian found a gun, authorities said, which he used to fire a “lone shot” at himself.
First responders did “everything they could” to treat the boy, Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter said at a press conference Thursday morning, but their lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful. Ian was pronounced dead at the scene.
At first it was unclear to authorities what transpired inside the apartment room, but Ian’s death is now being investigated as an apparent suicide.
Two other family members, Ian’s brother and father, were not home at the time of the shooting, but when family arrived on scene “they were overcome with grief,” Slaughter told reporters.
“We’re trying to definitely approach this taking care of all our responsibilities, while also being respectful that there’s an emotional trauma that’s occurred,” he said.
Gun deaths involving children were one of the defining narratives of 2016, a year that brought heart-wrenching stories of toddlers and small children accidentally shooting themselves, accidentally shooting their parents, accidentally shooting other children. The pro-gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety has been tracking accidental shootings involving children for years, and in 2016 found 247 shootings across the U.S. where a person age 17 or younger unintentionally killed or injured themselves or someone else with a gun.
An investigation by the Associated Press and USA Today found that in the first six months of 2016, “minors died from accidental shootings – at their own hands, or at the hands of other children or adults – at a pace of one every other day, far more than limited federal statistics indicate,” according to the report.
And the deaths raised so much alarm that the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence released a jarring PSA in Oct. 2016 with a satirical message: “Guns don’t kill people, toddlers kill people.” It featured fictitious mugshots of children in diapers and onesies, cast as criminals who must be locked up – a way to make a point about gun safety.
“This PSA is satire,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, told The Washington Post at the time. “But the public health crisis it calls attention to is anything but. Whether the trigger is pulled by a toddler, a convicted felon, domestic abuser, or terrorist, we have a problem in America with guns too easily falling into the wrong hands. And that translates to hundreds of lives lost or changed forever every single day.”
What separates the death of 10-year-old Ian – perhaps the first shooting death involving a child in 2017 – from many of the most tragic headlines of 2016 is that his, according to investigators, was a suicide.
Even so, Police Chief Slaughter, cautious about weighing in on such a hot-button political issue, addressed gun safety at his press conference Wednesday.
“There are rules and restrictions on making sure that you keep a gun in a safe manner that’s not accessible to a child,” he said. “I think it’s just a responsible thing to do as a gun owner. I’m not in a position to debate the Second Amendment here or anything, but with certain rights . . . in the Constitution come great, great responsibility. And if a person chooses to own a firearm there is responsibility for them to keep that in a safe location.”
The investigation, still in its infancy, will “include a look at how the firearm was stored,” authorities said.
“There are things we have to evaluate even if it is an accident,” Slaughter said. “Just because an incident is an accident, that doesn’t mean there’s not other things that have to be reviewed from a culpable negligence standpoint. There are rules and laws we have to evaluate.”
Ian was a fifth-grade student at Belleair Elementary School in Clearwater, a town west of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast. In local news reports, neighbors described the boy as happy, seen often around the neighborhood playing with other children.
“He’s very intelligent, smart, cordial and just a happy kid,” Lesley Sarchione told TV affiliate Fox 13. “He played with all the other kids. They used to play soccer right in front of my apartment every night. I can’t imagine how it’s going to be for the other kids when they find out.”
Grief counselors were available to students and staff at Belleair Elementary Thursday after the shooting, reported the Tampa Bay Times. A police spokesman told the Times that there have been no disturbance calls to the family’s residence in the last two years.
The boys’ parents, Olga Grusetskaja and her husband, identified by the Times as Leonid Sevostjanov, were described as caring parents.
“They’re very protective of their kids,” Patricia Rudd, who knows the family, told ABC Action News. “Shocking, I can not imagine what they’re going through right now.”
The Times reported that the family’s previous home, in nearby Largo, was foreclosed upon in 2007. A former neighbor at that residence told the Times the parents got behind on their house payments and, when the property went into foreclosure, left all their belongings behind. The neighbor described them as “quiet neighbors,” according to the Times, who mostly kept to themselves.
Olga sometimes waved hello over the backyard fence.
Slaughter said the family had been “very cooperative” with the investigation and was in a “great amount of distress, as you can imagine.”
“It’s a tragedy in all respects,” he said.
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