4-year-old shoots herself with grandmother's gun; in critical condition after chest surgery

COLUMBIA -- Lueen Homewood was picking up a prescription Monday morning at the Sam's Club on Harbison Boulevard when she heard a "horrible loud pop and then this screaming" behind her.

To her horror, a 4-year-old girl had been shot.

"I saw the gun on the floor. I saw a woman holding this little girl," recalled Homewood, 62, of Columbia.

The girl was sitting in a shopping cart being pushed by her grandmother an Aiken County magistrate when she pulled out a loaded, small-caliber handgun from her grandmother's purse and accidentally shot herself in the chest, Columbia police said.

Store employees immediately took the girl to a side room, grabbing first-aid kits and other medical items off the shelves to treat her, Homewood said.

The girl, whom police have not identified, was taken to Palmetto Health Richland, where she underwent surgery. Police spokesman Brick Lewis said doctors told relatives there appeared to be "no major damage from the bullet."

The girl was expected to be transferred later Monday to intensive care for observation.

Police identified the grandmother as Donna Hutto William- son, 47, of Salley, in eastern Aiken County, who has been a magistrate since 1998.

No charges have been issued, and an investigation is continuing, said Capt. Thomas Dodson, head of the department's criminal investigations division, who described the shooting as "tragic."

"Improper carrying, storing or handling of firearms can result in damage and injury, and this is what we have here today."

Williamson has a valid state permit to carry a concealed weapon, Dodson said. State Law Enforcement Division records indicate she has no criminal record in South Carolina.

Efforts to reach Williamson on Monday were unsuccessful.

Her mother-in-law, Inease Williamson, said Donna Hutto Williamson was distraught after the shooting, "just beating herself up; she is just so upset."

Investigators hadn't yet determined why Williamson was carrying a gun in the store, Lewis said.

The girl is seen on a store security video reaching into her grandmother's purse, which was next to her in the shopping cart, as Williamson was pushing the cart down an aisle, Dodson said. She then turned onto another aisle and was about halfway down it when the shooting occurred.