ELKHART — An Elkhart family is grieving the loss of their 15-year-old after what authorities are calling an accidental shooting over the weekend.
Police responded to a shooting that happened about 8:30 p.m. Friday at North Lake Apartments, according to the Elkhart County Homicide Unit.
Upon arrival, officers found Austin Charter "gravely injured" from a single gunshot wound. The teen was immediately transported to the hospital, but was pronounced dead shortly after arriving, investigators said.
“I’m still at a loss of words,” his mother, Jennifer Higginbotham, said Monday. “It’s so hard to believe he’s gone, I miss him so much.”
What makes the tragedy more unsettling, Higginbotham said, is that her child was shot by his best friend, who was apparently playing with the handgun.
“Austin was at his friend’s house and his friend was twirling the gun around with his finger like the cowboys used to do and they said they didn’t realize it was loaded,” Higginbotham said.
“Those two were just 10 months apart, they were inseparable — practically twins,” Higginbotham said of their relationship.
Describing her son, Higginbotham said he was caring, considerate and loveable.
“He was just so bubbly and he loved everything, especially his dogs,” she said. “Austin was always willing to help people. He would spend hours on the phone and listen to whatever his friends were going through and would offer them advice and draw pictures for them.”
Charter was a sophomore at Elkhart Community School’s landmark School Without Walls program, an alternative program that allows students to earn their high school diploma through online courses and in-person tests.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Elkhart Community Schools stated, “Austin approached life with passion, whether it was academics, friendships, or athletics. He was smart, artistic, and always honest. Austin's fire-red hair was a true match for his personality — fiery, but warm. He was well-liked by students and staff, and deep down had an incredible gentleness. Austin had a strong personality, an amazing smile, and loved to play basketball. Everyone who knew Austin truly felt his passion for life.
“Austin will be deeply missed by all who knew him. Our hearts are with Austin's family and friends, as well as the Elkhart Memorial, Elkhart Central, Pierre Moran, and Bristol school communities.”
A GoFundMe account has been started, with a goal of $8,000, to help the family with funeral and medical expenses. As of Monday afternoon, $2,894 has been raised.
The homicide unit is still investigating the shooting.