An 11-year-old boy, who was about to finish fifth grade and get ready for his summer vacation, died Saturday morning after he was accidentally shot in the head by his younger brother.
The Harford County Sheriff's Office was notified by the boy's grandmother around 7:20 Saturday that her 11-year-old grandson had been shot in the 900 block of Old Pylesville Road in Pylesville.
Members of the Whiteford Volunteer Fire Company were treating the boy, identified as Michael Alexander Szoke, of the 1200 block of Ridge Road in Pylesville, who died on the way to the landing zone to be flown to Johns Hopkins Pediatric Center, according to Monica Worrell, spokesperson for the sheriff's office.
Michael and his 8-year-old brother, Austin Szoke, who both attended North Harford Elementary School, were outside playing in the woods at their grandparents' house in the 900 block of Old Pylesville Road when the boy was shot, Worrell said. Deputies were told the shots came from an unknown person and direction.
Deputies used a police dog and Medevac helicopter to search what Worrell called a "really, really remote area," trying to find the origin of the shots.
Shortly before 10 a.m., deputies found a handgun hidden in the woods near the scene.
The investigation determined that the 11-year-old was accidentally shot by his 8-year-old brother while they were playing in the wooded area. The boys had removed the handgun from a secured area of an elderly neighbor's property, when they had gone to his house to help him with yard work.
The gun was in the neighbor's shed, Worrell added later, and the boys had gone into the shed in the past when they would help the neighbor with yard work. The gun was taken without his permission, she said.
No charges have been filed, pending a review by the Harford County State's Attorney's Office.
Michael lived with his grandparents on Ridge Road and was visiting his brother, who lived with their other grandparents, on Old Pylesville Road.
Both boys attended North Harford Elementary School, according to Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for the school system. She added that a team of school counselors and psychologists has been made available to students and staff who may need support.
"In addition, the school will reach out to the community to offer support for parents or community members as they cope with the news of this tragedy," she wrote in an e-mail Monday. "The crisis team will be available for as long as necessary."
Michael had just finished his fifth grade year at the elementary school, according to an obituary, and was described as a "happy-go-lucky" child. Along with his brother, he also had two sisters, Maddy Szoke and Rose Kiel, and was the son of William J. Szoke Sr. and Tammy E. Kiel.
Grandfather Donald Huffer explained the family situation Tuesday, saying Michael and Maddy lived with him and his wife, Shirley, in the 1200 block of Ridge Road. Austin and Rose, the other siblings, live with Harry and Cindy Kiel in the 900 block of Old Pylesville Road.
They had had Michael for a year-and-a-half, Donald Huffer said, and he was starting to do better in school.
"He was moved from place to place and he finally got comfortable, like any little kid should be," he said.
Although he called it a "tragic accident," Huffer still said that it was sad that Michael was finally being able to enjoy life and was turning out to be a "good kid." He would always help out around the house, loved to play in Huffer's shop and played with his younger sister, even when he didn't want to, Huffer said.
They were trying to give Michael things he hadn't had growing up, especially because he had a hard life, Huffer said, much like his brother, Austin.
"We bought him a John Deere tractor a couple weeks ago and it was his pride and joy," he said.
When they first received temporary custody of Michael, Huffer said he was very quiet and wouldn't say much. His grandmother, Shirley Huffer, would tell him she loved him every night, but it wasn't until the past couple of weeks that Michael would tell his grandmother he was going to bed and loved her.
"We had a lot of hopes and dreams for him," Huffer said. "It's hard to put into words how you feel."
There will be a viewing Wednesday (today), he said, adding that it would be difficult for family members to get through. Despite that, Huffer said that time goes on and they know Michael is looking down on the family and in a better place.
"He will really be missed," he said. "That's for sure."
A private Facebook group was created in honor of Michael, listed as R.I.P. Michael Alexander Szoke and as of Monday afternoon, had eight members.