Firearm safety rules flouted at Boy Scout camp, suit claims
Jan. 20—One of the parents attending a Boy Scout "Troop Shoot " and "Family Fun Day " at Camp Honokaia in Hono kaa in August brought an arsenal of weapons that included an AR-15-type rifle, an M-4 carbine, four shotguns, four Glock pistols and an AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifle—the firearm that killed 11-year-old Manuel Carvalho in an accidental shooting at a camp firing range, according to a lawsuit by the boy's family.
One of the parents attending a Boy Scout "Troop Shoot " and "Family Fun Day " at Camp Honokaia in Hono kaa in August brought an arsenal of weapons that included an AR-15-type rifle, an M-4 carbine, four shotguns, four Glock pistols and an AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifle—the firearm that killed 11-year-old Manuel Carvalho in an accidental shooting at a camp firing range, according to a lawsuit by the boy's family.
The complaint filed Tuesday in Hilo Circuit Court requests a jury trial to seek compensatory damages against the Boy Scouts of America and the organization's Aloha Council for wrongful death and gross negligence that included violating their own safety rules and allowing high-powered guns around children without adequate supervision.
The lawsuit was brought by Hilo attorney Kris La Guire on behalf of the boy's estate ; his parents, David Sr. and Michele Carvalho ; and five older siblings. LaGuire declined to comment further and said the Carvalho family is "still devastated " by the death of young Manuel, known as Manny, and would not comment at this time.
The two Boy Scout entities did not respond to Honolulu Star-Advertiser requests Thursday for comment on the lawsuit or related issues, including whether they conducted their own investigations into the Aug. 28 fatal shooting and are considering any policy changes as a result.
Meanwhile, the state Department of the Attorney General has yet to determine whether to file firearm-related charges against three men who attended the Hilo Boy Scout Troop 19 event where the accidental shooting occurred and are the registered owners of multiple guns, according to authorities.
"The Department of the Attorney General is conducting an active investigation. To preserve the integrity of the investigation, we have no further comment at this time, " a spokesperson said via email.
Hawaii island police announced in September that an investigation determined Manny Carvalho was accidentally shot when an "unsupervised " boy picked up a firearm that discharged when he placed it back down on a table. No charges were filed against the boy who handled the gun, but detectives deferred to county prosecutors on whether to file nearly two dozen firearm-related offenses, including criminally negligent storage of a firearm, against the three men, whose names were not released.
Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Kelden Waltjen referred the potential criminal cases to the state Attorney General's Office because family members and the children of several of his staff members were present at the incident and are potential witnesses.
The lawsuit describes Carvalho as "a happy, healthy, bright, creative, and lovable 11-year old who had just started 6th grade at Waiakea Intermediate School." He was a member of the Hilo Junior Tennis Club, had been a Cub Scout for years and was in his first year as a Boy Scout as a member of Troop 19 when he was killed.
The complaint details the Carvalho family's grief and anguish over his death, saying "an integral part of their Ohana has been torn away " and that the loss of "his caring and loving outlook on life has left a gaping hole in the family unit."
Hilo Boy Scout Troop 19 had invited families to bring rifles, shotguns and pistols—but no "illegal guns "—to use at Camp Honokaia's firing ranges during the "Troop Shoot " and "Family Fun Day, " according to the lawsuit.
Scoutmaster Conrad Dakujaku and his family brought six weapons, including an AR-15-type rifle, the complaint says, while Elson Wong, the father of a troop member, brought 11 or 12 guns, including the previously mentioned firearms.
The complaint notes that required range safety officers and firing line equipment were not used during the event, and alleges that shooting was allowed to continue even though a Scout had accidentally discharged a shotgun earlier in the day.
When the camp's first firearm range became crowded, Dakujaku decided to open the second range farther down the hill, according to the lawsuit. The Wongs and Dakujakus reportedly went to the second range, followed by other adults and children, including Carvalho, who sat in a wooden chair behind the firing line.
"At the second range, pistols were in use on the right side of the firing line. On the left side of the firing line, Wong was allowing some of his children to shoot his high-powered rifles, while other minors were waiting their turn to do so, " the complaint states. "Wong was loading the rifles and was supposedly checking to make sure the weapons were empty after use.
"Contrary to the (Boy Scouts') Guide to Safe Shooting, no barrel strings or other indicators that the chamber was checked and empty on each gun were applied after use and before the gun left the firing line. The supposedly emptied guns were placed on a series of tables set up at the back of the range, behind the firing line and behind the spectator area. Guns were pointed toward the firing line and the spectator area. No designated official was overseeing the tables or the range and firing line."
The lawsuit claims that "kids were milling about those tables, " and at one point a 10-year-old boy picked up Wong's AK-47. Although the ammunition magazine was not inserted in the rifle, a round had been left in the chamber, and as the boy set it down, the gun fired and the round discharged, hitting Carvalho in the back of the head, killing him.
"One moment, Manny had been quietly sitting and watching the shooting activities and the next moment he was gone, " the lawsuit says.
The Star-Advertiser was unable to contact Wong or Dakujaku for comment on the lawsuit. They are not named as defendants in the complaint and have not been criminally charged in connection with the Camp Honokaia shooting.
The complaint claims that the two Boy Scout organizations failed in their obligations to ensure and enforce their own safety practices and standards for shooting sports, including lack of planning, restrictions on certain firearms and making sure a qualified range safety officer was present.
Another example cited in the lawsuit was the use of zombie or human-form targets at the camp firing ranges, including on Aug. 28, even though banned under Boy Scout rules.
The lawsuit also claims lax oversight and management of Boy Scout and non-Scout shooting activities and other operations at Camp Honokaia over the years, saying that "there was a pattern of failures and tolerance that foreshadowed what occurred to Manny."