Mt. Pleasant parents sue gun maker, store over son’s 2016 death
The parents of a Mt. Pleasant teen who was fatally shot in 2016 are suing a gun manufacturer and a department store that made and sold the firearm used in the shooting.
A wrongful death and product liability lawsuit filed in Westmoreland County court this week alleges that Illinois-based Springfield Armory and Saloom Department Store made and sold a 9mm semiautomatic handgun without warnings and safety features, including one that would prevent a gun from firing when the magazine is removed.
Westmoreland County police detectives originally said the gun used was won at a gun bash. The lawsuit does not reference the gun bash.
James Robert “J.R.” Gustafson, 13, died March 20, 2016, after being shot by a friend at a Mt. Pleasant home. John Burnsworth III, now 16, in 2016 pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for firing one shot that struck Gustafson in the head. The teens were visiting the home where babysitter Brooke Nelson, 20, of Ruffsdale, was caring for three young children.
Burnsworth said Nelson gave him the gun and told him to scare Gustafson from the Church Street home. During a previous court hearing, Burnsworth said he did not know the gun was loaded when he ordered Gustafson to throw up his hands before he fired. Both boys were students at Mt. Pleasant Area Middle School.
Burnsworth was released this month from a Cambria County reform school by a juvenile court judge.
Nelson pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
The boys were at the home of Joshua Hudec, 32, who was sentenced to 11½ to 23 months in jail. Police said Hudec owned the gun used in the killing and left his three children, all under the age of 8, with Nelson and the weapon.
Kristopher Lewis, 46, of Mt. Pleasant, was sentenced in 2016 to two years of probation for not filling out the proper paperwork to sell the gun to Hudec.
The lawsuit alleges that the gun didn’t have a magazine disconnect safety, a loaded chamber indicator, an internal lock or warnings, any of which could have prevented Gustafson’s death. The defendants didn’t properly inform buyers the potential risks and benefits of gun ownership, according to the suit.
“Gun manufacturers and sellers know or should know that guns they sell will be stored unlocked and accessible to children,” the lawsuit states. “Failure to incorporate the safety features and warnings discussed here in results in many unintentional shootings every year, such as when a child finds a gun and fires it, injuring or killing himself or another child.”
A man who answered the phone at Saloom Department Store declined to comment. A spokesperson for Springfield Armory could not be reached.
The Gustafsons are seeking monetary compensation.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @byrenatta.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, email@example.com or via Twitter .