IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The owner of a handgun that a 4-year-old boy used to kill himself last summer in Iowa was charged Wednesday with illegally owning the firearm after telling police that he regularly used marijuana.
Daniel Henriksen, 29, was charged in federal court with being an unlawful drug user in possession of a firearm, which carries up to 10 years in prison. He wasn’t present during the self-inflicted shooting of 4-year-old Jayden Choate on June 17 at Henriksen’s trailer in Elgin, a small town in northern Iowa.
Henriksen pleaded not guilty during a brief court hearing Wednesday afternoon in Cedar Rapids and was released on bond.
An affidavit signed by Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent Scott Reger says the boy and his younger brother and baby sister were trying to nap inside the trailer while their mother and another individual were sitting outside on the deck. Jayden found Henriksen’s loaded handgun near where he was trying to nap that afternoon and unintentionally shot himself in the head, Reger wrote.
The affidavit says Henriksen had given the boy’s mother, Nikita Choate, and the other, unidentified individual access to his trailer on that day and on prior occasions when Henriksen wasn’t home.
The Associated Press recently obtained 911 calls showing that Nikita Choate ran to a bar across the street from the trailer after the shooting. A bartender called 911, then went to try to perform CPR on the boy until an ambulance arrived.
“There’s a little kid that’s hurt,” reported another caller, who said he heard the boy screaming and that the child “was very, very faintly” breathing. “It’s a gunshot wound right beside his nose.”
Fayette County Sheriff Marty Fisher has said the ambulance took several minutes longer than normal because a road closure added 5 miles to an 8-mile route. Jayden Choate was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Henriksen isn’t a felon, but is charged under a federal law that prohibits unlawful drug users from owning guns even if they don’t have a record. He wasn’t charged under an Iowa law that makes it a misdemeanor when gun owners leave unsecured weapons around children.
Reger’s affidavit says that Henriksen told police that he “was a drug user and had smoked marijuana in the trailer the night before the shooting with several other individuals.” Reger wrote that officers seized several items of drug paraphernalia during a search of the trailer, including smoking devices that Henriksen acknowledged were his and that later tested positive for marijuana following an analysis at the state crime lab.
Henriksen’s associates also gave investigators information about his use of marijuana last summer, and a review of his text messages found communications “consistent with Henriksen being involved in the possession, distribution and use of marijuana,” Reger wrote.
A public defender representing Henriksen didn’t return a phone message.
The boy’s aunt, Rebecca Sue Choate, said that she knew nothing about Henriksen’s alleged drug use, only that “he had a loaded gun in his house that my nephew got a hold of.”
“He was loved by many,” she said of Jayden. “He made friends with whoever he came across. He is greatly missed.”
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