Toddler killed in shooting tragedy
Addo park ranger’s rifle goes off, fatally wounding foster child and injuring wife
An Addo Elephant Park ranger fatally shot his one-year-old foster child and wounded his wife, who was holding the toddler at the time, in a tragic accident at their home.
Little Joslyn Snyman bled to death after the assault rifle bullet ripped through her leg.
Park ranger Shaun Billet, 45, the father of two other children, is now being investigated for murder and attempted murder.
The tragedy occurred at 7am on Wednesday in the Billets’ staff home in the Arizona camp at the Addo Elephant National Park outside Port Elizabeth.
The camp, which has 11 two-bedroom staff houses and three larger homes, is situated on the Colchester side of the park.
Police said yesterday that Joslyn – the niece of Billet’s wife, Irene, 42 – had been living with the family since Irene’s sister died shortly after giving birth to the little girl.
The Billets had then become Joslyn’s legal guardians.
Police spokesman Captain Andre Beetge said the tragedy occurred as Billet was preparing to leave the house for shooting practice.
“He was standing in the bedroom with his wife and the child,” Beetge said.
“The R1 rifle was attached to a sling hanging over his shoulder.
“He removed the magazine from the rifle and wanted to take the live round out of the chamber.
“But while taking the rifle off his shoulder to do so, a shot went off, hitting the child in the upper leg and the mother – who had been holding her – in her lower arm near the wrist.
“The postmortem, done in Grahamstown, revealed that the child had bled to death as a result of the wound.
“The woman is being treated in Livingstone Hospital.”
Asked how the shot had been triggered, Beetge said this was still being investigated.
“Detectives have since discovered that there was a round in the chamber after he [Billet] took the firearm magazine out.
“As he was taking the rifle off his shoulder, the trigger allegedly got caught on something and discharged,” he said.
The Motherwell Cluster serious and violent crime unit is handling the investigation.
Park regional head John Adendorff said everyone at the park was shocked by the tragedy.Adendorff confirmed that Billet had been preparing to go to the shooting range.
“The family is completely shattered,” he said.
“The investigation has been taken over by the police but all indications point to an accidental discharge.
“He [Billet] has been a ranger for many years and is well versed in firearms.”
He said Billet’s duties included anti-poaching activities, general maintenance of the park and animals, and law enforcement.
“Going to the range to shoot is common and our staff do more than four shoots a year as part of ongoing training.”
He said the Billets were still too traumatised to comment and would be going for counselling.
“Their families in Paterson have been informed.”
Beetge said once the investigation had been completed, the docket would be sent to the senior public prosecutor for a decision.
“The prosecuting authority will then decide whether to change the charges to culpable homicide or keep the charges of murder and attempted murder,” he said.
Motherwell Cluster commander Major-General Dawie Rabie said: “Firearm owners should always be careful when handling their firearms.”