For The Tribune
A father was working at his computer in a back bedroom of his Hartsville home when he was accidentally shot by his 6-year-old son, who had picked up an unsecured revolver off a desk.
James E. Lonaker, 62, died Sunday night while being transported by helicopter to IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Bartholomew County sheriff’s deputies said.
The shooting was reported to the sheriff’s department at about 9:17 p.m. Sunday in the 200 block of Clinton Street, deputies said. When deputies arrived, they found Lonaker with a gunshot wound to his upper body.
The 6-year-old boy, Lonaker’s wife Jenny Rose and a year-old son were all in the back bedroom when the shooting happened, something that happened in seconds, Sheriff Matt Myers said.
Family members have learned that Lonaker was changing clothes and placed the gun on top of a table and mini-fridge in the bedroom, then turned to finish something on the computer, she said.Lonaker did not see the child pick up the handgun, deputies said.Jenny Rose Lonaker, who was putting the baby down, heard a pop but didn’t realize it was a gunshot, said Juli Lonaker, a daughter from her father’s first marriage.
“It was a tragic, tragic accident,” said Juli Lonaker, who said that her father had owned guns all his life and had a permit to carry the revolver.
“He (the 6-year-old) grabbed the gun and it fired and it accidentally hit our dad,” she said.
Worry over young brother
Juli said her first concern and that of her brother, Corky Lonaker, also from their dad’s first marriage, is to protect the younger child from the impact of what happened.“We care about his future,” Juli Lonaker said of the 6-year-old.“We want to make sure he has the healthiest future possible,” she said. “We can tell his heart is broken. He has told us his daddy is in heaven.”
Juli Lonaker described the 6-year-old as a beautiful, fun-loving little boy.
Calling the incident tragic, she said family members are concerned that this is something he will carry with him all his life.
“We don’t want this incident to define him or his future,” she said.
Myers said his heart went out to the Lonaker family and to the little boy, who was very upset at what happened.
The youngster told deputies he didn’t mean to hurt his father, Myers said. The child told investigators he didn’t think the gun was loaded, Myers said.
Myers said the sheriff’s department has distributed more than 1,200 gun locks and provided some educational programs about gun safety.Firearm accidents in the home can be prevented by making sure that firearms are kept unloaded and safely stored, with ammunition stored in a separate location, Myers said.“But people do get in a hurry, and they do forget,” Myers said. “Mistakes happen. There was no malice in this.”
The sheriff’s department has notified Child Protective Services about the shooting, deputies said.
The Marion County Coroner’s office said Monday that an autopsy was conducted for Lonaker listing his cause of death as a gunshot wound to the chest and manner of death as homicide, according to the autopsy results.
Columbus’ boxing community reacted with shock at learning of James Lonaker’s death.Tony Ault, a Columbus city employee who once trained with James Lonaker, described him as an upbeat guy who was always full of life.Ault met James Lonaker in the late ‘80s and the two traveled all over the country, and even to Israel, for boxing matches, he said.
“He was a really good boxing coach,” Ault said. “He was just a really good friend. He was always willing to help in the community.”
Originally from Austin in Scott County, Lonaker had lived in Hope for many years and raised a family there, Ault said.
He had moved back to this area recently and started a new family and was working on building a hotel and resort complex in the Philippines, Ault said.
The location he decided on was Hartsville, a northeastern Bartholomew County town with a population of 381.
Hector Ramirez, Columbus, who works at Dorel, said James Lonaker was a father figure in his life, and he had spoken to him as recently as last Saturday. Ramirez said James Lonaker was generous and giving, providing Ramirez with whatever he needed.
“He would do anything for anybody,” Ramirez said. “He was a good person, a good father.”
Corky Lonaker said he trained as a boxer with his father from the time he was 4 years old. Their travels for boxing matches took them all over the world — to Europe, Canada and Mexico, he said.Growing up extremely poor in Austin in a tiny one-bedroom house with six siblings, James Lonaker became a giver, his son said.“He couldn’t stand for people to go without,” he said.
Most recently he was involved in the resort-building project and making plans for the future.
“No one lived as well, or as hard or as fast as my dad,” his son said. “He lived life as though he was very rich, even though he wasn’t.”
The family will be mourning, but also celebrating a life and talking about the good times they had together, he said.
“We have a lifetime of memories,” Corky Lonaker said. “He would want us to be celebrating those times.”