A four-year-old who shot dead his two-year-old brother with a handgun as they played in their parents' bedroom found the loaded weapon stored behind a pillow by the bed, it has emerged.
Neegnco Xiong was playing with his siblings while their mother cleaned downstairs at their Minneapolis home on Wednesday, when his parents heard a loud bang.
They ran upstairs to find the youngster lying on his front, shaking and struggling to breathe. His family and paramedics tried to give him CPR, but he died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.
His father, Kao Xiong, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he had bought the gun for safety after a series of nearby break-ins and had thought the gun was adequately hidden in the room.
'My heart is broke,' Xiong, 33, said. 'This changes my life. I can't imagine this terrible thing would happen to me. I wish I would be a new person.'
The couple has not been charged in what police branded a 'horrible accident' but it is illegal in Minnesota to store a loaded firearm where a child can access it.
Police will present their investigation to the Hennepin County attorney, who will decide how to proceed. The couple's three other sons have been temporarily places in child protective custody.
Xiong, who works as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, said he first acquired a gun seven or eight years ago for his own protection after someone broke into his house while he was home.
And last year, he bought a semi-automatic Tokarev pistol for safety and would often carry it with him when he went jogging late at night following nearby car break-ins and a shooting.
He said the gun was behind the headboard in his room, while other guns in the home were locked away.
After the boy was taken away in the ambulance and officers stayed with the parents, Xiong said he turned to his four-year-old son and said: 'Why did you do this to your brother? He's dead.'
The boy was crying, as was the officer, he said. But he added that he knows it was not his son's fault and hopes he cannot remember the incident.
Police questioned the couple of Wednesday and the children were expected to be returned home on Thursday, the Star Tribune reported.
Minneapolis police Sergeant William Palmer called the shooting 'a horrible accident' and released a statement calling on gun owners to safely store weapons, especially if they have children.
'The Minneapolis Police Department wants to remind everyone who has a firearm in their home that it is their responsibility to lock up firearms to prevent tragic accidents from occurring,' he said.
He added to Twincities.com: 'Very clearly, a four-year-old should never have access to a firearm, loaded or unloaded.'
Minnesota law states that a four-year-old cannot be charged with a crime.