In a bizarre and truly awful turn of events, an Amish man fired a gun into the air while cleaning his musket near Wooster, Ohio, and accidentally killed a teenage girl who was driving a buggy over a mile away. Police suspect that the shooting is accidental and the details are just awful. The 15-year-old girl was on her way home from a Christmas Party at the Amish produce farm where she worked, when the bullet hit her and based on reports of a trail of blood, she must have gone looking for help before dying in the woods. The bright side, the Amish say, is that it wasn't an attack on their way of life. "Obviously, that makes them feel a lot better than if someone might have been targeting the Amish or (if it was) a random shooting murder," Holmes County Sheriff Timothy Zimmerly told the Associated Press.
While this accident is easily written off as another in a frighteningly durable trend of accidental shootings in America, it does provide evidence that firing a gun into the air truly is dangerous, even deadly. The question surfaced in the news earlier this year as joyful revolutionaries in Arab Spring countries like Egypt and Libya freely fired AK-47 upwards to celebrate victory. Many wondered exactly how dangerous a celebration it was, and in March, Slate's Brian Palmer offered an explainer:
Things aren't likely to be much worse at angles just off the vertical. That said, bullets fired at an upward angle of 45 degrees or less can be far more lethal, since they're likely to hit someone on the ground while traveling at a much greater speed. In this case, gravity isn't directly opposing the bullet's motion, so the projectile stays at a higher velocity throughout its flight path. It's also more likely to maintain its initial, aerodynamically favorable orientation. Bullets fired vertically tend to fall nose-up or sideways, which creates a lot of drag.
We don't know the specifics of the accident in Ohio's Amish country but suspect that the man was firing a test bullet his newly cleaned front-loading rifle pointed more ahead than above. Unfortunately, we now have to add this incident to a growing list of wrong-place-wrong-time accidental deaths this holiday season.