Crime

Teen fatally shot his 6-year-old brother with an illegal gun, police say

Gulfport police gather at a home in the 3600 block of Sabine Street on Friday after a 6-year-old boy was shot in the stomach and died.
Gulfport police gather at a home in the 3600 block of Sabine Street on Friday after a 6-year-old boy was shot in the stomach and died. Justin Mitchell

A teenager accused of fatally shooting his 6-year-old brother in the stomach used a gun he obtained illegally, Police Chief Leonard Papania said.

Albert Deonte Craft III, 16, faces a manslaughter charge in Friday night’s fatal shooting of Zaylan Sparkman inside their home on Sabine Street. The neighborhood is southwest of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and North Gulfport 8th Grade School.

How Craft obtained the gun remains under investigation, though details could be released later this week, Papania said.

“There is no legitimate reason for a young person to go out and acquire a handgun,” he said.

“I realize we have young people who go hunting and practice in gun sports, but that's not what we're talking about.”

Zaylan was home with his brother when the shooting was reported about 6 p.m. Officials have said the child was shot once and died at a hospital shortly afterward as neighbors gathered somberly to sort out the news. Police have declined to say if anyone else was home.

Zaylan attended St. James Baptist Church with his paternal grandmother, said The Rev. Eddie Hartwell, church pastor.

"He was just a happy little boy," Hartwell said. "He enjoyed coming to church.”

Hartwell said he last saw Zaylan on Thursday night during a review at the end of Vacation Bible School.

A teacher asked the children what God wanted Mary and Joseph to name baby Jesus.

Zaylan spoke up: “Emmanuel.”

The teacher asked what the word meant.

“God is with us," Zaylan replied.

Hartwell said that’s the last words he remembers hearing Zaylan say.

“Less than 24 hours later, we got the call of the tragedy," he said.

Hartwell, also the owner of Hartwell's Christian Mortuary and Funeral Home, will have the sad task of seeing that Zaylan is laid to rest.

Zaylan was starting school as a first-grade student.

Craft is being held at the Harrison County jail on a $100,000 bond. Police said he is being charged as an adult.

The killing is a double tragedy for the family, Papania said.

“They will bury a very young child and their teenager’s life as he knows it has changed substantially, and beyond criminal aspects,” he said. “The entire family suffers.”

No motive for the shooting has been given.

Manslaughter is a lesser crime than murder. One element of manslaughter is reckless disregard for the life of another.

The killing is not just a police problem, but also a “community welfare concern,” Papania said.

“I tend to believe there are adults who are aware kids are armed. People need to get involved. Just peruse social media. It’s there. Adults need to take responsibility.

“There's no happy ending with a kid with a gun in these circumstances. This tragedy is indicative of just how bad it can get.”

Sun Herald staff writer Anita Lee contributed to this report.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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