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Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
Western District of Michigan
Mark A. Totten, United States Attorney
For Immediate Release
Wednesday, December 13, 2023

New Charges in Case Related to Two-Year-Old Child in Lansing Who Died After Accidental Discharge of Gun

Child’s Death Reflects Larger Crisis: Gun Violence Has Now Become the #1 Cause of Death Among Children and Teenagers

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten today announced that a grand jury has returned an indictment charging Avis Damone Coward with being a felon in possession of a firearm, conspiracy to tamper with evidence and tampering with evidence. Coward was previously charged in a complaint that alleged that an accidental discharge of Coward’s gun led to a two-year-old child’s death.

Two other Lansing residents were also charged in the indictment. Emma Huver, 26, is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Gina Schieberl, 26, is charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence and tampering with evidence.

“For the first time ever, gun violence is the leading cause of death for kids in America,” said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten. “Nothing more horribly illustrates this crisis than the death of an innocent two-year-old child. The cure demands an all-hands approach, and my office will play its part by ensuring accountability for those who put children in harm’s way.”

As alleged, on Oct. 24, Coward got out of a car at a Lansing gas station and went inside, leaving a two-year-old child and his mother, Huver, in the car. Surveillance video showed that a minute later, a bullet hole appeared in the car window. The mother got out of the car holding her child, who had blood on his face from a gunshot wound. As she did so, Coward’s gun fell out of the car. Huver handed the child to Coward, who then passed the child to a third person who took the victim into the gas station and attempted to control the bleeding until medical personnel arrived. Coward returned to the car, picked up the gun off the ground and put it back in the car. The surveillance video also showed Coward use his hand to break out the front passenger window, which had the bullet hole. Coward then drove away. The child later died from his injuries.

Surveillance video still images showing a person move a gun from the ground to inside a vehicle

The tampering charges concern attempts by defendant Coward and Schieberl to hide or destroy evidence in this case, including the car, which was later found burned-out and abandoned in a field in Lansing, and a .45 caliber Springfield Armory semiautomatic pistol, the barrel of which was found disassembled and hidden in the wall of a house in Lansing.

Burned-out vehicle

“The allegations in this case represent the most horrific side of gun ownership and the tragic unintended consequences associated with poor choices. Avis Coward is prohibited from lawfully possessing a firearm. He chose to possess an illegal firearm and to leave a loaded firearm unsecured in a vehicle with a toddler in it,” said ATF Detroit Field Division Special Agent in Charge James Deir. “In the aftermath, as alleged, Avis Coward chose to tamper with evidence in an attempt to avoid blame in this dreadful situation.”

“We are thankful for the support of U.S. Attorney Mark Totten and his office against the gun crime that has had a grip on the Lansing area for too long,” said Lansing Police Chief Ellery Sosebee. “Our community deserves better, and with partnerships like this, we are moving in the right direction to combat the gun issues faced every day in this city, state and country.”                

“Gun violence is a national crisis and the leading cause of death of our children so it’s best to have strong law enforcement partnerships to address this crisis and protect our children,” said Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney John J. Dewane. “Locally and nationally, we have far too many senseless, preventable deaths because of children having access to firearms. No child should ever have access to a loaded firearm. No child should ever be in danger of being shot under any circumstances. My office, in collaboration with U. S. Attorney’s Office, will hold offenders accountable when children are victims of gun violence.”

“Gun violence is a public health concern,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, State of Michigan Chief Medical Executive. “Many of the strategies that have been used to impact motor vehicle accidents and tobacco use — including education and community outreach — can be applied to community violence prevention. Let’s work together to keep Michigan children and families safe.”

Gun violence is an acute problem across the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. firearm homicide rate in 2021 was the highest documented since 1993. While the numbers have slightly declined since 2021, they remain high.

In 2021, for the first time ever, firearm-related injuries became the leading cause of death for American children, ages 1-19, according to the New England Journal of Medicine (see also here).

While gun violence has the potential to impact everyone, recent studies show that gun violence has a disparate impact on people of color. For example, a recent study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that the disparity in shooting injuries among children before and after the pandemic in four major cities approximately tripled as between White children and children of color (Black, Hispanic, Asian).

This week, in conjunction with the Justice Department’s Violent Crime Reduction Summit, the Department released a Violent Crime Reduction Roadmap, which outlines 10 actionable steps to help reduce gun violence and identifies federal resources to support these efforts.

This case was investigated by the Lansing Police Department, Michigan State Police, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program bringing together federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally based strategies to reduce violent crime.

The charges in an indictment are merely accusations, and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.


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