Ore. community reels over death of 9-year-old girl hit by stray bullet

Ore. community reels over death of 9-year-old girl hit by stray bullet »Play Video
Shayla May Shonneker (Photo from facebook.com/InLovingMemoryOfShayla)

OREGON CITY, Ore. - A community is in shock over the death of a 9-year-old girl who was shot and killed by a bullet that was never meant to be fired.

The shooting happened just before 5 p.m. Sunday at a home near 12th and Division Streets in Oregon City.

Shayla May Shonneker died when police say the man who was engaged to her mother accidentally fired a shot through a wall while he was practicing drawing and re-holstering a 9mm handgun.

According to police, 32-year-old Joseph Wolters was in a back room of the home when the gun went off, sending a bullet through a wall and directly into the girl's path.

Shonneker was playing in the back yard and was about 40 to 50 yards from the house when the bullet hit her in the head.

Initial reports indicated Shonneker died at a hospital but autopsy results released on Monday stated that she was killed instantly.

Shonneker was just weeks from her 10th birthday and folks saddened by what happened have been leaving flowers and cards outside her home. Even police officers are having a tough time with this one.

"Just an angle or two deviation from where he had that gun pointed and he would have missed," said Lt. Jim Band with the Oregon City Police Department. "The likelihood that she ended up getting hit with a fatal shot - I don't know, it's crazy."



The girl's family released the following statement on Monday and asked for privacy while they grieve. Those interested in leaving a message for the family can do so on the family's In Loving Memory of Shayla Facebook page.

"We are saddened and shocked at the events that unfolded yesterday. Our little Shayla was playing outside when she was struck by a bullet. Trying to understand and comprehend the actions that led to the shooting are more than our family can deal with right now. It is more important that we deal with the very personal loss of Shayla. We know that this was an accident and there was no intent to harm Shayla in any way."


KATU's Dan Tilkin reports on Wolters' background

Wolters is a military man and from his resume, it appears he should know how to handle guns safely. He is an Iraq War veteran and a current member of the military reserve. He spent a year in Iraq as a tank driver and was shot in the leg while helping a friend get to cover during an attack.

Police said Wolters had recently been hired for an armed security job with an armored transport company. He told police he was practicing drawing the gun in preparation for his new job.

According to Wolters' LinkedIn page, he had high aspirations. "I am currently going to school to be a police officer. I am trying to get my associate's degree in criminal justice. Then further my education in psychology for my bachelor's degree."

Wolters was briefly in the news back in 2007 when the Army arrested him on a U.S. Army Absent Without Leave (AWOL) warrant but then later admitted they had made a mistake. Wolters was not AWOL and served honorably (he was awarded with several medals).


KATU's Valerie Hurst reports from Shayla's school


Shayla Shonneker was a 4th grader at John Wetton Elementary School in Gladstone and most of the students, teachers and parents found out Monday morning about her death.

Parents stood outside the school Monday morning, sharing the news with each other. For many, understanding what happened was difficult.

"I can't imagine having any words that would come up, and especially when it's something so senseless," said parent Tracey Grant, who has a third and sixth grader at the school.

The school district brought in grief counselors and teachers read a statement to the kids about their classmate. All of the students were offered support if they needed to talk about what had happened.