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When Make Believe Hits Reality

June 11, 1995

Some people think a toy gun is just child's play. But as an officer-involved shooting in Carson over the Memorial Day holiday demonstrates, parents should be aware that a seemingly harmless hunk of plastic in young hands has the potential to thrust an unsuspecting child into the line of fire.

The family of young Freddie Palacio learned that much last month. While "goofing around" with a $2 toy gun, the 12-year-old pointed his make-believe pistol at a Sheriff's Department helicopter. Problem was, law enforcement officers weren't playing a game.

The deputies, in the midst of an intensive manhunt, were searching for a shooting suspect who had fled on foot from a nearby park. According to the official explanation, officers mistook the boy for an armed suspect, opened fire and wounded . . . an apricot tree.

The incident has given Palacio sleepless nights. But some kids aren't that lucky. Last year, New Yorkers were shocked by the shooting death of a 13-year-old straight-A student. He was accidentally killed by a housing officer who mistook the teen-ager's toy gun for the real thing.

In an effort to prevent tragic accidents, the government requires "look alike" toy firearms to include bright orange plugs. And last year, in advance of the Christmas season, two major toy chains--including Toys R Us and Kay Bee Toys--voluntarily, and responsibly, removed realistic toy firearms from their shelves.

Such moves save young lives. So can parents; by keeping such toys out of children's hands in the first place.

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