Seventeen months after an 8-year-old Connecticut boy fatally shot himself with a machine gun provided at a Massachusetts gun range, the Westfield Sportsman's Club pleaded no contest today to a manslaughter charge and to furnishing a machine gun to a child.
Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Conn., died on Oct. 26, 2008, after losing control of a high-powered Uzi machine gun, which recoiled and fatally shot him in the head. The boy's father had brought him to a gun shooting event at the club.
The boy's parents did not attend the court hearing, but a lawyer representing Suzanne Bizilj, the boy's mother, read a statement from her in court.
"The emotional trauma of Christopher's death haunts me every day," she said. "We trusted this event would be fun and safe, with trained safety officers present. … In my opinion, the event was poorly supervised, with dangerous weapons in the hands of inept instructors."
The mother asked how it could have happened that it was an unlicensed 15-year-old boy, the son of one of the gun dealers sponsoring the event, who was in charge of supervising her son.
"How could [the gun dealer] think his 15-year-old son could possibly be mature enough and skilled enough to put a powerful automatic weapon in the hands of an 8-year-old boy? How could gun club range officers allow non-certified instructors to be in control?" she asked, adding, "It is hard to comprehend the extent of negligence that went on that afternoon."
Attorneys representing the Biziljes asked the judge to accept the settlement because, they said, the family wanted to move on.
"It's the most appropriate way to dispose of this case," said Vincent A. Bongiorni, the attorney representing the Biziljes.
The boy's father, Dr. Charles Bizilj, previously told the Globe he was standing 10 feet behind his son as the boy fired the 9mm micro-Uzi machine gun. The boy's father had brought him to the Annual Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo that was organized COP Firearms & Training, an Amherst company run by former Pelham police chief Ed Fleury.
The club boasted in an ad before the event that the $5 entry fee was waived for children under 16 and there was "no age limit or licenses required to shoot machine guns."
"It's all legal & fun," the ad said. "You will be accompanied to the firing line with a Certified Instructor to guide you. You are in control -- FULL AUTO ROCK & ROLL."
Judge Peter Velis ordered that the gun club remain on probation for one year. The judge described the death of the boy as "bone chilling" and required that the charity payments be made in the victim's name.
"There will be no more automatic weapons at the Sportsman's Club. That's the condition I accept this plea," the judge said. "We cannot endure another case like this. This has shaken the conscience of the whole community."
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more