As four young friends played together on the last day of school holidays on Monday, tragedy struck when one of the boys was killed when his friend’s air rifle “accidentally discharged”.
The boys, aged 12 and 13, were together on a farm in the Greytown area when the incident occurred.
Police and farming communities closed ranks on information pertaining to the incident in a bid to protect the identities of the children and families involved.
A statement by one of the farmers (who asked not to be named) on Tuesday said the boys were enjoying their last day of holidays together “as they do on a regular basis”.
“The four boys had played cricket together, went skateboarding and also participated in shooting birds with an air rifle around the garden.
“At some stage, the air rifle was put down while the boys were playing and an accidental discharge went off, injuring one of the young boys.”
It is believed the 12-year-old boy was struck in an artery.
The farmer’s statement said the other three boys did not realise what had happened at first “but upon realising the magnitude of the injury called for help”.
The statement went on to say that the young boy was declared dead at the scene.
Umvoti Farmers’ Association chairperson, Lloyd Robertson, said one of the boys had called the local emergency line for help.
“We know the boys played together every holiday and had been friends since they were small,” said Robertson.
He said the boy who lived on the farm often shot birds for his friends and family to have for supper.
Robertson described the incident as “a complete freak accident”, saying the boy who owned the air rifle and his parents, as well as the parents of the boy who was shot, “are not doing very well”.
“The little boy’s family know it was an accident but are of course devastated. Everyone is in shock and everyone is upset because a life has been lost and we offer our sincerest condolences to all the parties involved.”
Robertson added that more could be done to teach people about gun safety.
“People will say it is just an air rifle but it has taken a life.
“Just say no if your children ask for air rifles and BB guns until you are sure they understand the seriousness and consequences of accidents that can happen.
“Air rifles are not toys,” he said.
Provincial police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala confirmed that the 12-year-old boy had been killed by an air rifle and said a case of culpable homicide had been opened at the Rietvlei police station.
She said it is understood that all four boys lived in the same area and had been friends for a long time.
A Pietermaritzburg gun salesman who asked not to be named said guns are “safe in the right hands but if not, no matter what the calibre of the weapon is” are not safe. “All weapons are potentially deadly. It does not matter the size or the calibre.”
Recently, a Pietermaritzburg woman’s cat was killed by an air rifle pellet that had pierced the cat’s lung.
In another incident in Cape Town in 2013, a 10-year-old girl accidentally shot and killed her mother with an air rifle her brother had received as a Christmas present.
In 2016, the Citizen reported that a teenage girl from Centurion died after being shot with an air rifle.
The girl was shot in the face on a small holding in Polokwane. She was with her older brother at the time.
The report said it was unclear what had happened but the shot was fired and the bullet landed in her left nasal cavity, and penetrated her brain.
South African Airgun website airrifle.co.za, states that air rifles are to be treated as firearms.
“Law number one: airguns are not toys. Treat airguns with the same respect as you would any dangerous weapon or firearm,” it states.
Chapter three of section five in the Firearm Controls Act says it is an offence to: cause injury to any person or cause damage to property of any person by negligently using a firearm, an antique firearm or an airgun.
Airsoft gun enthusiast Ronaldo Fourie had told The Witness in a previous article that air rifles are developed for target shooting and hunting.
“They operate at a much higher FPS [feet per second] and Joule [kinetic energy] rating to be able to do what they need to …