GALLUP, N.M.—An infant who was shot in the face at a New Mexico motel this month is in an induced coma and will likely have severe health complications including hearing and vision loss as a result of her injuries, police said on Dec. 19.
Gallup Police Officer Darius Johnson told The Associated Press in an interview that the 8-month-old girl was being treated at an Albuquerque hospital and appears to have lost hearing in her left ear and will likely lose her left eye.
“We don’t know much beyond that,” Johnson said.
Johnson was among the officers who responded to a chaotic scene at the Zia Motel in Gallup, New Mexico, on Dec. 8 after police received reports of gunshots.
According to a police report, officers found Shayanne Nelson, 18, holding her infant daughter bleeding from the face and in a blanket and her 3-year-old boy beside her.
A hysterical Nelson told authorities that she and her boyfriend, Tyrell Bitsilly, 21, were in the shower when her 3-year-old son found a gun and accidentally shot the infant. Nelson said she believed the gun may have been left in the room by someone who was in their hotel room earlier. No other adults were in the room at the time of the shooting.
Casey Franchot told police he saw Bitsilly wiping the gun after the shooting. Franchot, a trained U.S. Army medic, said he was across the street from the motel and eating at a nearby fast-food restaurant when he heard Nelson yell that her baby had been shot.
“She was choking on her blood so I did my best to clear her airway,” Franchot, 43, said in an interview.
Nelson and Bitsilly face child abuse charges stemming from the shooting. Bitsilly also was charged with tampering with evidence.
In addition, Bitsilly is facing charges in another case involving a gun and Nelson’s children. Bitsilly was arrested in October after police say he fired a gun during an argument inside a car in downtown Gallup and was charged with aggravated assault with deadly weapon, child abuse, shooting from a motor vehicle and tampering with evidence, court records said.
Shanna Nelson, 39, the sister of Shayanne, told the AP that Bitsilly shot his gun toward the car’s floorboard as Shayanne Nelson was attempting to break up with him.
“He has been emotionally and physically abusive toward her for months,” the sister said. “He’s controlling and has threatened to hurt our family if she break[s] up with him.”
She said the father of the children died in a car accident last year. Shanna Nelson said her sister and the father of her children were engaged at the time of the accident.
Shayanne Nelson often returned to Bitsilly because she had no place for her and her children to stay, Shanna Nelson said. She said her sister, like her, comes from a poor Navajo Nation family and members often struggle to find permanent homes.
Bitsilly’s attorney, John Bernitz, said he had not heard of abuse allegations and declined to comment about those allegations and the earlier charges.
Lawyers for Nelson and Bitsilly convinced a judge Wednesday to postpone preliminary hearings in the criminal case so they can review new evidence that includes video interviews, a new police report, and footage from a surveillance camera.
Bernitz said the video interviews gave conflicting information about what happened at the hotel but he did not elaborate.
He has called the shooting a tragic accident, said that the hotel attracted people struggling with poverty and that a gun may have been left in the room.
McKinley County Magistrate Judge Robert Baca rescheduled the hearings for Jan. 9.
By Russell Contreras