Man Shoots Cousin Mistaking Her for Skunk

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I know accidents can happen to anyone, and I’m certainly not immune. But, someone please explain to me how a Pennsylvania man could mistake his 8-year-old cousin dressed in a Halloween costume for a skunk, and then proceed to shoot her.

According to reports, that exact thing happened Saturday night during a family’s Halloween party in the rural town of Rochester. At approximately 8:30 p.m., the woman hosting the party, Janet Grant, apparently heard there was a skunk in the backyard. She then asked her 24-year-old son, Thomas Grant, to shoot the animal while she used a flashlight to shine a light over the hillside.

The man used a shotgun to fire at the skunk, which was actually his cousin wearing a black hat with a white tassel, striking her in the shoulder. Luckily, the girl survived, but was listed in critical condition at UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. She was alert and speaking when she arrived at the hospital, where she underwent surgery.

According to news articles, Janet's house sits off the side of a small hill, and at least two other houses appear to be within 100 yards. It is a violation of state hunting regulations to shoot a firearm within a 150-yard safety zone around another occupied residence. And, while it is legal to hunt skunks at night, the state requires what is known as a furtaker license. It's unknown if Thomas had one.

Apparently Thomas was sober when he mistakenly shot his cousin, so there goes the most logical theory of how such an accident could happen.

Neighbors claim Thomas comes from a good family that never causes trouble, and he was devastated after realizing his mistake. I don’t doubt his upbringing or remorse, but this mistake could have easily been avoided had he, first of all, not broken state hunting regulations, and secondly, followed the most basic and essential rule when it comes to shooting -- know your target. The average 8-year-old measures close to 4 feet tall and weighs approximately 60 pounds. Does Pennsylvania have a population of freakishly large skunks that I’m unaware of?

Thirdly, only a fool would shoot a gun into the darkness in the vicinity of an ongoing Halloween party that includes children. The shooter and his mother obviously did not know the whereabouts of all their guests; therefore no gun should have ever been fired.

Not only was the poor girl critically injured, but the reputation of hunters was damaged as well, as it is each time a shooter mistakes a person for an animal. Earlier this year a man shot his girlfriend in both legs when he mistook the noise she was making in the brush while picking up oranges as the rustling of a hog he'd seen earlier. What do you wanna bet he's still sleeping on the couch? Many years ago, my grandfather's friend was shot and killed by a turkey hunter who mistook him for a tom in the bushes. One life was taken and many more ruined, all because the hunter didn't take the time to get a good look at what he was shooting.

Accidents like these should never happen. Let this be a reminder to us all that before we shoot, we should identify the target beyond any doubt and be aware of the area beyond the target. In addition, those of us who are teaching our children to hunt should not only go over gun safety rules with our children, but we should insist they learn and recite them before they operate a gun.

So, what are your thoughts on this accident? Should the shooter be punished?