The Tulsa Police Department on Tuesday identified a U.S. Army Reserve specialist as the woman who was fatally shot by her 3-year-old son in their east Tulsa home Monday afternoon.
Christa Engles, 26, was in a residence in the 100 block of South 168th East Avenue with the toddler and her 10-month-old daughter about 4:30 p.m. Monday when, according to Tulsa Police Homicide Sgt. Dave Walker, the boy shot her in the head while she appeared to be changing her daughter’s diaper in their living room.
“There was a holster on a table right (by) where she would have been changing the diaper,” Walker said Tuesday.
Detectives believe the boy picked up a loaded 9mm semiautomatic handgun from the low-lying table near the couch while his mother was distracted and accidentally fired at her. The children’s grandmother, who also lives at the home, walked inside to find the scene in the living room and called police, Walker said.
An EMSA spokeswoman said Engles was transported in critical condition to a Tulsa hospital. Walker said she died at 5:38 p.m. Monday.
Christa Engles’ husband, Brian, a truck driver, arrived in Tulsa about 8 p.m. from an out-of-state assignment and learned about the incident, Walker said.
Brian Engles said Tuesday that he was in the process of coordinating funeral arrangements, and while he said he wasn’t yet ready to be interviewed, he allowed the Tulsa World to publish the contents of his social media posts.
“I know you loved me, I worship the ground you walked on,” he said in a public Facebook post early Tuesday. “I am the luckiest man alive, to have been able to love you. Since the day I met you, you have been the best part of me. I love you Precious Angel.”
The Engles’ children have been turned over to family members, police said, but a Tulsa-based expert in child behavior said their healing process has only just begun. Child specialists interviewed the toddler about the incident Monday night, and Walker said the boy — the only direct witness — “confirmed what the evidence led investigators to assume.”
“Any child who is dealing with that type of trauma is going to have fears at times and anxiety,” Child Abuse Network Managing Director Rose Turner said. “That can be expressed in depression or extreme anger. They don’t know how to deal with that feeling of loss.”
Statistics from the National Safety Council indicate fatal firearms accidents among all age groups have dropped 31 percent between 1998 and 2012, meaning they comprise less than 1 percent of fatal accidents in the United States. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that Oklahoma has had 0.37 unintentional firearm deaths per 100,000 people between 2004 and 2010, and that 214 such deaths occurred in the state among all age groups between 1999 and 2012.
While Turner did not discuss specific details about the Engles family’s case, she said it’s essential for children who have witnessed or experienced trauma to receive proper support from those around them.
“A lot of families, when they’re searching for resources, they may not want to become involved in counseling and want to forget about (trauma),” she said. “But you don’t forget. You may push it to the back of your mind, but it comes out in your behavior, especially in a child, because their verbal skills aren’t as developed.”
Tulsa police detectives said Tuesday afternoon they couldn’t remember any recent cases that involved a small child accidentally shooting an adult, even non-fatally. But Bill Brassard, who serves as the director of Project ChildSafe, said Tuesday that fatal firearms accidents such as Christa Engles’, while “historically low,” are always a tragedy because they are easily preventable.
Project ChildSafe distributes gun locks and educational materials to gun owners through law enforcement agencies around the country, which Brassard said has helped drive the fatality rate down during the past decade.
Regardless of how the boy obtained the weapon, though, police and family members believe they will always view the case as a “horrible, horrible accident.”
“Don’t forget to tell your loved ones they are loved,” Brian Engles wrote Tuesday. “You really never know when the last ‘I love you’ really is the last.”