MIDVALE, Utah — Investigators believe a man told his 4-year-old child to fire at officers following a dispute over his order at a McDonald's drive-thru in suburban Salt Lake City on Monday, police said. An officer was able to swipe at the gun as it was fired, directing the bullet away.
Police say the incident began around 1:30 p.m., when an unidentified man didn't receive the correct order at the restaurant in Midvale. That's when he brandished a gun at the pick-up window and demanded that his order be corrected, a spokesperson for the Unified Police Department, Sgt. Melody Cutler, said.
Workers asked the man to drive to the front of the store and park in the waiting area while they corrected his order and then they called the police.
Police told the man to get out of the car several times but he refused and had to be pulled from the car, according to KSL.
But, as officers were taking the man into custody, one officer looked back and saw a child pointing a gun from the rear window.
The officer instinctively swiped the gun away as it was being fired, sending the shot into the side of the restaurant. The officer also yelled “kid” to other officers after seeing how young the shooter was, Cutler said.
"It happened in such a split second. I don't think the other officers would have had enough time to get out of the way had he not deflected that firearm from where it was being pointed at the group of officers," Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera told KSL.
The officer suffered minor injuries to his arm, but the incident is the kind that “shakes you to the core,” Cutler said. “I can say every officer on our team yesterday was quite emotional,” she said. “Very luckily, that didn’t turn out to be a horrible tragedy."
A witness observed the man tell the 4-year-old, who was in the backseat with a 3-year-old sibling, to shoot the gun, Cutler said. She declined to elaborate.
Rivera also confirmed the man told the child to shoot the gun.
"At this time we're waiting for the investigation, but I do have information that the father told the child to shoot," Rivera told KSL.
Rivera said it was a sad day for law enforcement and the community.
“To have an adult think it is OK to encourage a 4-year-old to pull a firearm and shoot at police illustrates how out of hand the campaign against police has gotten,” she said.
Both the boy and his 3-year-old sibling were taken into the care of child-welfare workers and will be interviewed as part of the investigation. Their father, a 27-year-old recent transplant from Georgia, is being held without bail on suspicion of felony child abuse and threat with a deadly weapon.
He told police he “blacked out” and did not remember brandishing the gun or racking a round at the McDonald’s employees at the drive-thru window, according to a jail booking statement.
He also acknowledged that “this was not the first time his son had gotten ahold of his gun,” investigators wrote. The documents did not elaborate on how the child had gotten the weapon before.
The Associated Press is not identifying the father to avoid identifying the son. No attorney was immediately listed for him in court records.