One misstep changed a lot.
The sound was from a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun that belonged to Army veteran Nicholas Wyllie.
The gun almost always carried on his hip wasn’t with him.
The concerned father rushed upstairs in his home and found his son – 2-year-old Benjamin Smith – fatally wounded with a bloody gunshot wound to the thorax on the morning of September 12, 2016. Within minutes, little Benjamin was dead at the hand of the handgun his father accidentally left on his nightstand.
“I watched my little boy’s life leave his body while I frantically tried to bring him back,” Wyllie, 27, told reporters Thursday.
Wyllie knows it’s his fault that his young son, who went upstairs to watch “Winnie the Pooh” on the bedroom TV, is dead and nothing he will do can bring the lively little boy back to life.
“I prayed for God to take me instead of my boy, but I am still here and he is not,” said Wyllie, who is currently serving time behind bars in connection to the boy’s death.
“I have taken on the responsibility to use myself and my story as an example” he said. “If I can help prevent the accidental death of even one child with my story, then I did my job.”
Wyllie spoke publicly as part of the launch of “Ben’s Campaign – Lock It Up,” named in honor of little Benjamin.
The campaign is starting by providing cable-style gun locks free of charge through Project ChildSafe. The locks will be available to gun owners seeking permits at the Bucks County Sheriff’s Office and at local police stations. Bucks County Children and Youth workers also plan to carry the locks.
Bucks County Detective Eric Landamia and Bucks County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Dan Boyle demonstrated how easy to use the gun locks were on firearms during a press briefing.
“This tragedy is all the worse because it was 100 percent preventable. For the want of a $1.50 gun lock, little Benjamin Smith would be alive today,” District Attorney Matt Weintraub said. “The goal here is to protect children from unsafely stored guns, so that Benjamin’s death will not have been in vain.”
“It just took one misstep in my daily routine to create the current hell my life has become. If I had taken the extra step to put in a lock box or safe, or one of these $1,50 gun locks, my son would still be here,” Wyllie said.
All of the gun locks come with a bookmark featuring gun-safety educational information and contacts for firearm-safety organizations.
Wyllie said his experience with guns since childhood and his time in the Army gave him the false sense that a tragic gun-related accident couldn’t happen to him.
“I thought I was being safe enough with how I conducted myself,” Wyllie said. “Accidents can happen.”
“We as parents and caregivers and grandparents make sure that our children are buckled into their car seat or seatbelt every time they get into a vehicle, because we want them to be safe. So we need to lock up our guns,” Penny Ettinger, executive director of Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), told reporters.
Before being sentenced to prison earlier this year, Wyllie began volunteering with a gun safety program in the region. He said he plans to continue working to prevent unneeded gun deaths once he is released in memory of his son.
“I’m an expert on a subject I wouldn’t want my worst enemies to have experience in. Get the thought of ‘it will never happen to me’ out of your head, because it could. And if you think you’re safe enough in your practices, please just take that extra step to make it fool-proof because accidents happen,” Wyllie said.
The gun lock program is sponsored by the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office, Bucks County Sheriff’s Office, Bucks County Division of Human Services, Bucks County Health Department and Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services Agency. In also receives support from the Bucks County Health Improvement Partnership, the Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), the Bucks County Child Advocacy Center, and police departments throughout the county.