Toddler playing with gun shoots man dead

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A toddler shot a man dead with a revolver he found in a cupboard, police in California said today.

Officers in Alameda are now searching for the owner of the .38-calibre weapon.

The three-year-old boy apparently found the revolver in a bedroom cupboard while his mother fed his one-year-old sister, and two aunts and a grandmother played cards, said police Lt. David Boersma.

When the boy walked into the living room playing with the gun, the adults tried to get him to put it down. But the pistol fired and struck Luis Fernando Zepeda-Silva, a recent immigrant from Guatemala.

Police said Silva had been on a patio sorting bottles for recycling when he returned to the living room through a sliding glass door and the boy pulled the trigger.

Silva was shot in the chest and later pronounced dead at Highland Hospital in Oakland.

Early evidence indicates it was a "big, tragic accident," but questions remain, Boersma said.

"I've got to tell you, I thought it was completely implausible that a three-year-old could manipulate a revolver," he said. "Was he using both hands? Just fooling around with it?"

Investigators searched for an uncle of the boy's who lived in the apartment, but was not home during Monday's shooting. California law allows prosecutors to file criminal charges against adults when children find guns and shoot and harm somebody.

"He's the key to all of this," Boersma said of the uncle. Police did not release the man's name, but said he was Silva's cousin.

Boersma said the gun may have been stored with the hammer cocked. It was unregistered and unlocked, he said.

The boy had recently played with a water pistol and may have been familiar with how to operate a gun, Boersma said.

An interview with the boy was not very helpful, Boersma said. Both English and Spanish are spoken in the home and the boy speaks neither very well.

The boy was allowed to stay with his parents. Police believe they were not even aware the gun was in the apartment.