HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Hundreds of firearms have been stolen in the Charlotte area. Many have been taken from vehicles during break-ins, and for one Huntersville family, a stolen gun was found too close to home.
Imagine being in your backyard with your kids and your 5-year-old discovering a handgun under a pile of leaves. That’s what happened to the Hege family.
Now they are sharing their story and encouraging families to speak to their kids about gun safety.
“All of a sudden I look over and my son was raking leaves in a pile,” Mike Hege said. “He picks something up and holds it with both hands… something that is metal and says dad what is this?”
Hege said he was several feet away from his son and it wasn’t clear what he picked up at first.
“Ultimately it was covered in leaves, we had no idea it was there, and he found it,” Hege said, describing the moment he realized what was in the child's hands. “He is pointing it at me and I’m calmly telling him to point it to the ground.”
It was a handgun, loaded and in the hands of his 5-year-old son Luke.
“It was really wild to see that, a 5-year-old pointing that right at you. I calmly ran to him and took it from him. I realized it was a full magazine with one in the chamber with the safety off,” Hege explained. “Clearly if he had picked it up the wrong way -- it is unfathomable to think what could have happened.”
Huntersville Police said the gun was reported stolen from Charlotte and may have been used in a crime in Huntersville a few months ago. Hege believes the weapon must have been ditched in his yard.
“They asked Luke to show them where he found the gun,” he added. “They did a sweep and made sure things were secure. They took the weapon out and then they came back and praised Luke for a job well done for telling a grown-up.”
He said the incident became a teachable moment to educate his kids about guns.
“What’s so important is to talk to our kids about what that means, why we don’t point guns at other people, you don’t point them at yourself,” Hege explained. “Why we don’t handle them and why we called the police.”
Whether you own guns or not, it’s a conversation Hyatt Guns owner Larry Hyatt said saves lives.
“Just like you would teach them that if they see a power cable on the ground not to touch it, well, if they see a gun don’t touch it. You must give basic information to the kids,” Hyatt said. “Don’t touch it and go get an adult is the number one for kids that are younger. When they are older you can teach them gun safety and what a gun does.”
Stolen firearms are a big problem in the Charlotte area. Earlier this year, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department found more kids are behind crimes involving guns.
Hyatt said making sure guns are properly stored away is one way the community can help stop them from ending up in the wrong hands.
“We get calls here every day from customers who brought guns here and need their serial numbers so they can turn them in to the police because their gun was stolen from their car,” Hyatt said.
CMPD said the most common way for them to get their hands on a weapon is by stealing them.
Earlier this year, reported at least 500 firearms were stolen from cars in Charlotte.
“Cars right now are the biggest problem,” Hyatt said. “They are just not secure, and they are just so easy to break into.”
Hyatt urges gun owners to properly secure their weapons.
“Two things you can do is increase your security by putting your gun in a lock box in your car and in your home,” Hyatt said.
He added whether you own firearms or not, gun safety education goes a long way.
“Unfortunately, there are hundreds of millions of guns throughout the United States and your child can come across a gun through another person’s house… all types of things,” Hyatt said.
If your gun is stolen or you lose it, it's important to report it to the police right away.
Hege shared his story on Facebook and has received hundreds of comments, mainly from parents who have then spoken to their kids about gun safety. Hege is grateful no one was hurt.
“Honestly, so thankful that our family is here and able to tell the story,” Hege said. “Our guardian angels were looking out.”