The parents of Marquel Peters, 4, probably thought that there was no more safe place than their church in Decatur, Georgia on New Year’s Eve. They were wrong. While he was playing a video game at his parent’s feet, a bullet came through the roof of the church and killed Marquel.
The parents had gone to the church to hear a concert, here.
The round was fired from an AK-47 and at first the parents did not know that Marquel was shot. Marquel’s mother, Nathalee Peters, heard a small scream and saw the boy drop his game.
It drives me crazy to see people firing guns in celebration in various countries. There has long been a debate over whether the large numbers of injuries associated with falling bullets was true. What is known is that bullets are more lethal if fired at an angle rather than straight up. However, even a bullet fired straight up (not the case in Marquel’s death), can be lethal according to many experts. One of the best explanations that I could find is from Cecil Adams at Straightdope. After looking at a famous study by General Julian Hatcher in 1962, Adams writes:
Datum 3. Still, the question isn’t how many people get injured or killed by falling bullets, it’s whether such things are possible at all. On further investigation, it appears the 60 foot-pound injury threshold cited by Hatcher may be misleading — a falling bullet’s kinetic energy (foot pounds) alone isn’t a good predictor of the speed it needs to inflict a wound. B. N. Mattoo (Journal of Forensic Sciences, 1984) has proposed an equation relating mass and bullet diameter that seems to do a better job. Experiments on cadavers and such have shown, for example, that a .38 caliber revolver bullet will perforate the skin and lodge in the underlying tissue at 191 feet per second and that triple-ought buckshot will do so at 213 feet per second.
Mattoo’s equation predicts that Hatcher’s .30 caliber bullet, which has a small diameter in relation to its weight, will perforate the skin at only 124 feet per second. It’s easy to believe such a bullet falling at 300 feet per second could kill you, especially if it struck you in the head.
The problem is terminal verocity which slows the bullet once it reaches a point where its weight equals the resistance of the air. However, most bullets are not fired perfectly straight up. Indeed mythbusters came to the same conclusion in their tests with a .50 caliber bullet:
In the case of a bullet fired at a precisely vertical angle (something extremely difficult for a human being to duplicate), the bullet would tumble, lose its spin, and fall at a much slower speed due to terminal velocity and is therefore rendered less than lethal on impact. However, if a bullet is fired upward at a non-vertical angle (a far more probable possibility), it will maintain its spin and will reach a high enough speed to be lethal on impact.
However, many of these sites including Mythbusters question the numbers of people assumed to be killed by falling bullets.
In this case, it appears likely that the bullet was fired at an angle in celebration and retained its spin and velocity — producing this horrible tragedy for the family and the loss of this beautiful child.
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