PALM HARBOR — Police tape blocked the street and surrounded a neighbor's house when Karina King arrived home Friday afternoon.
After getting out of her car, King learned that Jacob Larson, the 12-year-old boy who lived two houses down from her, had been shot in the head.
She began to cry.
"I cannot believe this is happening," King said. "He's a nice boy. He comes over and rides the scooter and bikes with my children all the time. I don't get this."
According to authorities, Jacob's stepfather, Joseph Newman, found him with a gunshot wound after arriving home from work and quickly called 911. Palm Harbor firefighters and Pinellas County sheriff's deputies reached the home at 435 Laughing Gull Lane about 11:20 a.m., and Jacob was airlifted to Bayfront Medical Center with life-threatening injuries.
He later was transferred to All Children's Hospital, where his condition was not known.
Detectives are investigating the shooting as accidental. During their search of the home, they found a small-caliber handgun, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda said.
Barreda declined to provide further details about who owned the gun or circumstances of the shooting.
Judi Byrne, who lives next door to Jacob and his parents, said she and her husband were home much of the morning but neither heard a gunshot. They realized something was wrong when fire trucks converged on the area.
"I saw them taking someone out on a stretcher, but I couldn't see who it was," Byrne said. "I can't believe it was Jacob. He always seemed like such a sweet little guy."
Neighbors described Jacob as a quiet, friendly boy who was seen regularly taking out the trash, mowing the lawn and playing with the family dogs.
"I'm completely shocked," said neighbor Cody Malander, 17.
At Palm Harbor Middle School, where Jacob is a student, assistant principal Donald Comeau said administrators were aware of the situation and "preparing for an effect on our campus."
Authorities began removing their police tape at the home at 2:35 p.m. A blue Toyota SUV remained parked partially on the sidewalk across the street. Neighbors said it belonged to Tracy Newman, Jacob's mother.
A photo of Jacob hung from the rearview mirror.
The keys were still in the ignition.
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4156.