Couple Pleads Guilty After Child in Their Care Shot Himself

A babysitter and a former sheriff's deputy-in-training pleaded guilty to charges related to the death of a 4-year-old boy who accidentally shot and killed himself while at their home in Virginia.

Heather Massey pleaded guilty Tuesday to felony child neglect while Nicholas Stoia pleaded guilty to reckless handling of a firearm. Other charges were dropped in exchange for the plea.

Cole Clark, 4, shot and killed himself May 15, 2017, at the couple's Orange County, Virginia, home. Massey was babysitting him at the time.

Cole was put down for a nap in a bed next to a table that had Stoia's gun inside, prosecutors said. Cole found the gun in the table and was killed with a single shot.

Massey was caring for several children at the time. Stoia was not at the home.

"If either of the defendants had exercised ordinary diligence, we would not be here today," the prosecutor said.

Family Photo
Cole James Clarke Falcetti

Kyrin Falcetti said she and her husband got a chilling phone call about her son about an hour after she dropped him off. Somehow, he'd found a loaded gun and shot himself.

"When we got there, it was just an atypical scene," said Cole's father, Josh Falcetti. "The cop cars, the ambulances, everyone's out front, so we knew something bad had happened."

The child was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

Both Massey and Stoia, her fiancé, were arrested a week after Cole died.

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It is illegal in Virginia to leave a loaded, unsecured firearm where children can find it.

"If you have a weapon, gun safety," said Josh Falcetti in the wake of his son's death. "It's something that they teach for any person that gets a weapon. Keep it secure. There's no reason a child should be within reach of any type of weapon whatsoever at any point in time."

Stoia was training to be a deputy with the Stafford County Sheriff's Office. He's since lost that job.

The gun involved was not a service weapon, officials have said.

Sentencing was scheduled for April. Massey faces one to five years in prison. Stoia could get up to 12 years.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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