ST. LOUIS — A 5-year-old boy was shot in the head Sunday night in the LaSalle Park neighborhood, according to police.
The boy was in surgery around 9 p.m., police said. His medical status was last reported as critical, as of Monday afternoon.
Homicide detectives with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department were requested to the scene.
The shooting happened in the 1000 block of LaSalle Park Court around 8:30 p.m.
The boy was driven to the hospital in a private car.
Police said the mother initially claimed a bullet entered the house from outside the home, but further investigation revealed the mother's boyfriend was in the house with a handgun.
She told police she thought it was out of the child's reach.
According to police, at some point, the firearm discharged, they don't know how, and hit the victim in the head.
It's a message Cathy Gilbert, with Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice and the 'Lock It For Love' program, has had to give one too many times.
"I am tired of having to deliver this message, but we can't stop. We have to keep reminding people that there is one small thing that they can do to help prevent these tragedies and that is if you have guns in your home, make sure they are secured" she said.
Gilbert said every time a young child becomes a victim of gun violence in the city it breaks her heart.
"In my case, I just keep thinking why, why? Where did that gun come from? How did that child get a hold of a gun? Where did we not communicate with the responsible adult that when a child is around, that gun needs to be secured. You may need it, you may feel you need it when you step outside, but when it's in your home, and that child is there, your gun needs to be secured," she said.
While gun locks are widely available for free across the city and county, Gilbert added, that conversations among families need to happen too.
"We need to be talking to our children about what to do if they encounter a gun. That is not the final answer because curious children are still going to explore, but another precaution, is to make sure your child knows that if they see a gun, they should not touch it. Even if they think it’s a toy, don’t touch it. Walk away and tell an adult," she said.
Gilbert said families also need to be having conversations about securing guns, whether someone is coming into their home, or their child is going into someone else's home.
It's a dialogue Reverend Derrick Perkins has had with parents at his church, Centennial Christian Church Disciples of Christ, in North St. Louis.
"While we’re talking to youth about all these other factors, we were having conversations with parents about gun safety. That’s an issue in some communities and some families and we wanted to make sure that parents can be empowered. If they’re going to have firearms in their homes, do what they can to make sure their children are safe," he said.
Perkins believes there also needs to be more education, resources and alignment between officials and citizens.
"We really need to spend more time investing in dialogue with the people who are being impacted by these kinds of acts," he said.
For these tragedies to stop though, according to Perkins, more community support is necessary.
"There’s a lot of risk factors and very few protective factors. We need after school programs; we need mentoring programs. We need them strategically placed across our city and county. We need partnerships and collaboration, so as long as there are more risk factors, than protective factors, these are some of the things that we’ll continue to see," he said.
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones' office provided this statement:
"The safety and security of our children remains a top priority for the City of St. Louis. While the incident remains under investigation, we encourage St. Louisans to take responsible steps to protect each other and our communities. The City reminds gun owners to properly secure their firearms and ammunition out of reach of children. Gun locks are available at no cost at libraries, Fire and Police stations, and more: https://womensvoicesraised.org/lifl-partners/."
The 'Lock It for Love' program has gun locks available at every St. Louis City Fire Department. That includes 30 engine house locations that are open 24 hours daily. If you have questions, you can call 314-533-3406.
St. Louis County Library locations where you can get a gun lock include Natural Bridge, Weber Road, Florissant Valley and Lewis & Clark.
Gun locks are also available at all the City of St. Louis library locations.
You can see more information about the 'Lock It for Love' program here.
More information may be forthcoming further into the investigation. This story will be updated with the latest information as it becomes available.