The mother of a boy who was five years old when he shot his four-year-old sister has pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
Krista Lachapelle entered her plea in Brandon Court of Queen’s Bench on Monday as Crown attorney Grant Hughes described the scene found by police inside the family home where the shooting took place.
Ammunition and weapons were left in plain view throughout the home, Hughes said, and police seized five guns.
"Police note that there was no evidence that these firearms had been locked up. There were no trigger locks in the house, nor any locking storage containers such as a gun safe," Hughes said.
Twenty-five-year-old Lachapelle and her husband, Daniel Lachapelle, were both charged following the shooting and were expected to go on trial this week.
Instead, Krista Lachapelle pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
All charges against her husband — including five counts of careless storage of a firearm — were dropped after his wife entered her plea.
Justice John Menzies accepted the plea by Krista Lachapelle and ordered a pre-sentence report. The case has been put to March 10 to set a sentencing date.
Before court adjourned, however, Hughes shared details of the shooting.
He said RCMP were called to the Souris hospital around 1:15 p.m. on Nov. 26, 2011.
The Lachapelles’ four-year-old daughter had been rushed there by family after she was shot by her five-year-old brother.
The bullet had passed right through the lower abdomen of the girl, who was sent to the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg and underwent emergency surgery. During that surgery, she had 20 to 30 centimetres of intestine removed.
The shooting had happened at the family’s home in the RM of Whitewater, southwest of Elgin, while Krista Lachapelle was home with the couple’s three children. Her husband was away from the home at the time.
Daniel Lachapelle was called home by his wife following the incident, and he was there when police arrived later that afternoon.
Officers noted the house was in "disarray" and "unsanitary," Hughes said, and there were soiled clothes, toys and old food throughout the living room and kitchen.
Police found a spent .22-calibre casing on the floor of the kitchen, and a bullet hole in the door of another bedroom where a small amount of blood was found.
On top of the fridge, they found ammunition, which included a magazine full of live rounds for a .308-calibre rifle and a half-full box of .22-calibre rounds.
In the basement, assorted hunting gear rested on a table — a bow and crossbow with their arrows and bolts, and assorted ammo.
Forensic investigators entered the house the next day and seized about 300 rounds of various calibres of ammunition.
"All of which were easily accessible inside the home, either in plain view or in an unlocked cupboard or drawer," Hughes said.
In total, police found five guns in the house.
A .22-calibre rifle and a pump-action shotgun were found in an open closet by the door to the home.
In one bedroom, there was a .50-calibre muzzle loader rifle, a .308-calibre rifle lying on the bed and another rifle in the closet.
Police also found a .22-calibre slug lying on the floor of the bedroom where the girl was shot. It was the bullet believed to have been fired through the girl.
Police also found two bags that contained about 20 grams of marijuana, a grinder and a pipe that contained marijuana residue.
Three sharpened replica Samurai swords were also found in the house.
Both parents gave statements to police following their arrests, and Krista Lachapelle described the events leading up to the shooting.
She said the five guns found in the home were for hunting, and the .22-calibre rifle had always been kept in a locked closet by the front door.
Describing her son as "stubborn," the mother said the boy wanted to go hunting prior to the shooting and he’d claimed he was big enough to handle the .22-calibre rifle.
She said her boy was capable of climbing on a chair so that he could flip open the "hook lock" on the closet door. So, she said, she took the gun out of the closet to stop her son from getting it.
She checked to make sure the gun wasn’t loaded, but left the chamber open. She took the gun down the hall, but put it down so she could change her six-month-old daughter’s diaper.
She told police that her son and daughter had been playing in a bedroom when she heard a thud and discovered that her daughter had been shot. The bullet had been fired through the bedroom door with the .22-calibre rifle.
Investigators later interviewed the boy, who drew pictures of guns and spoke of his dad’s rifles being in the kitchen closet. He also demonstrated how to load a gun and said he’d gotten a bullet from a drawer.
Lachapelle said the gun — placed barrel down with the bolt pulled back and the chamber open — would have been easy for her son to load. She added there were bullets all around the house.
Hughes said Daniel Lachapelle told police that he knew the guns were improperly stored. He too acknowledged there was ammunition lying around the house, Hughes said.
The girl has since recovered, Hughes said following court.
The couple’s three children live with them and the family has since moved out of province, their lawyer Bob Harrison confirmed.
Hughes said the Crown is seeking a jail sentence. He said, based on an agreement with Harrison, the Crown was willing to accept a plea from just one of the parents because it wouldn’t be in the best interests of the children if both parents went to jail.
Neither Hughes nor Harrison have specified the sentence they’ll seek for Krista Lachapelle, who had no previous criminal record.
Menzies noted that the offence carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
There’s no minimum penalty, but a conditional sentence (house arrest) is not available for this offence.