Court docs explain how toddler accessed gun ahead of fatal shooting

Posted at 6:38 PM, April 10, 2023 and last updated 11:10 AM, May 4, 2023

By Madeline Miller, Heather Eckstine

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WTVR) — A 3-year-old boy was accidentally shot and killed in Newport News, Virginia last week. Now, the boy’s father is facing additional charges in connection to the incident, according to police.

On Thursday, April 6, the Newport News Police Department responded to a report of a shooting. At the scene, police say they found a 3-year-old boy who had been shot. The boy died at the scene, and police said the shooting appeared to be accidental.

Nathan Copeland (Newport News Police Dept.)

According to court documents, the boy’s father, Nathan Copeland, told detectives that his uncle brought the gun to the residence the night before the shooting, and found it on his passenger side door when he was getting his wallet from his car.

Court documents say Copeland told detectives brought the firearm into his residence for safe keeping, placed it into a cardboard box, then placed the box on top of a marijuana growing tent.

Police say the firearm was not secure, and according to Copeland, there was a magazine inside of the firearm.

Copeland then went to bed and locked his door, later letting his son into the room to sleep in his bed, according to the documents.

According to the documents, the morning of the shooting Copeland went downstairs to prepare his son for the school day while his son was still asleep, then heard a loud bang and ran upstairs.

Court documents say when he ran upstairs he found his son laying face up on the floor with a gunshot wound to his head.

According to detectives, Copeland admitted to being a convicted felon.

A search warrant was completed at Copeland’s residence, where detectives say they seized 48 marijuana plants, packaging material, plastic baggies of “suspected marijuana,” scales and money.

Earlier in the department’s investigation, the boy’s father, Nathan Copeland, was charged with distribution/possession of marijuana with intent.

Now, after further investigating the accidental shooting, the department says additional charges for Copeland have been obtained. Copeland now faces the following charges, according to NNPD: child abuse/neglect: reckless disregard for life; possession of a firearm by a violent convicted felon; and firearm: leave loaded, endangering child.

Copeland remains in custody, according to police.

This story was originally published April 10, 2023 by WTVR in Richmond, an E.W. Scripps Company.