CHICAGO (WLS) -- The father of a 3-year-old boy who was accidentally shot and killed on Chicago's West Side by his older brother told police he got the gun for protection.
Michael Santiago, 25, was charged with felony child endangerment causing death and bond was set at $75,000 at his first court appearance Sunday. His next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 23.
Emotional relatives had nothing to say as they were escorted from court by anti-gun violence advocate Andrew Holmes.
"The family is totally upset about the whole incident and at the same time they're trying to raise the money to get this young man out," Holmes said.
Eian H. Santiago, 3, and his 6-year-old brother were playing "cops and robbers" around 9:05 p.m. Saturday in their home in the 1000-block of North Francisco Avenue in the city's Humboldt Park neighborhood. The children's grandfather was watching them while Santiago was at work and his wife went to the store with the couple's infant daughter to get some milk.
It was after Israel LaSalle says he asked the boys to go downstairs to get some bleach so he could clean up after the dog that he heard a single shot ring out.
"I heard a pop, you know, like somebody had shot, so I opened the door and I look out and he was running up the stairs and he told me somebody shot his brother," LaSalle said.
Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the older boy found a loaded revolver on top of a refrigerator and accidentally shot his younger brother.
LaSalle says ran with Eian in his arms to a nearby hospital. He was then rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was unaware that Santiago kept a loaded gun in the house.
"You know how kids are, they get into everything," he said. "There is not a safe place where you can put a gun where a kid can't reach it or find it."
Investigators say Santiago, a former gang member, says he got the gun for protection after testifying against another gang member during a murder trial. Prosecutors say Santiago doesn't have a valid firearm owners identification card or a valid conceal carry permit for the loaded weapon, which they say he had left wrapped in a pair of pajama pants on top of the refrigerator and had shown to his older son last week.
"I don't think that he should be charged for his own child's death. He didn't kill his child, it was an accident," a neighbor said. "I don't want to blame him, but in reality there is negligence, negligence in the sense he was not being careful. Take the gun, hide it somewhere where the child would not find it."
LaSalle doesn't want to blame Santiago either, nor does he think he should be charged with a crime, but he does say a loaded gun should have never been within his grandchildren's reach.
"It's just stupidity to keep something dangerous in the house, when your family could get hurt," LaSalle said.
Family and friends say Santiago is a hard-working man who is trying to keep his life on track, though they struggle to cope with the tragedy.
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