Great-uncle of 8-year-old victim speaks out about accident

MORGANTOWN — “If I could trade places with her, I would in a second.”

Michael Nichols, the great-uncle of Chloey Neely, was handling the gun he claims accidentally discharged in her Rolling Hills Village home, striking the 8-year-old girl in the head.

Nichols, 49, was arrested after Friday’s shooting and charged with misdemeanor person prohibited from possessing a firearm. He told police he was unaware a 1997 domestic battery conviction prevented him from owning a gun.

“It was not intentional. It was just a freak accident,” Nichols said. “It doesn’t change anything for Chloey.”

Family friend Tonya Hawk-ins said Monday that Chloey was in critical-but-stable condition and remains in a medically induced coma. J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital officials declined to confirm the girl’s status.

“Tons of prayers are going out and being answered,” Hawkins said. “There’s no signs of swelling, and she’s showing signs of improvement. We’re just trying to do the things we can do to get them by.”

Nichols was at the Neely home to give the handgun to his niece, Kristie Neely, Chloey’s mother. He claimed she needed the pistol for protection because of recent safety concerns. Nichols did not provide further details.

“I was giving it to her,” he said. “I instructed the officers to test the gun to make sure, to check for defects because it just went off. And then destroy it.”

The bullet went through a wall and struck Chloey behind the right ear and reportedly remains in her head. MECCA911 dispatchers told responders that it was a 9mm hollow point round.

Released hours after his arrest, Nichols said he went straight to the hospital to see Chloey.

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