Never point a gun at anything you do not intend to shoot.
It’s the first rule of gun safety, and it’s what 3rd Division Circuit Judge Charles Clawson said just before he sentenced 19-year-old Patrick Bauhaus to five years probation for the accidental shooting death of Jeremiah Hackler.
"He made a horrible mistake, and it cost him his best friend and a family its son and daddy," Clawson said. "The question is can he be a valuable member of society, and I believe Jeremiah would want to see that happen.
"Maybe he’ll use his life to be an influence for good, a citizen who undertakes activities to help people avoid making stupid mistakes. I hope I’m doing the right thing, and time will tell."
Bauhaus and Hackler had been friends since Bauhaus moved to Arkansas in July of 2014, according to his testimony during his sentencing hearing Monday. He had been in some trouble in Texas, and his friend, Josiah Dickens, invited him to a church camp in Arkansas.
The three of them spent a lot of time together, occupying some of that time target shooting with rifles in Dickens's back yard. There was a running joke between them, Bauhaus said.
"We would say ‘What would you do if I shot [name], and then the other person would say, ‘I don’t know what I’d do,’" he said. "We were dumb. We never thought anything like this would happen."
Bauhaus lived in Dickens’s home, which also operated as a hospice care facility, and helped care for elderly clients. Dickens’s father had strict rules about guns in the house, Bauhaus said: No loaded clips in the house and no weapons around the clients.
On the evening of Sept. 24, 2014, Bauhaus planned to attend a Bible study with his sister after cancelling other plans to shoot targets in Enola. Hackler sat on the couch in Dickens's living room while Dickens washed dishes in the kitchen.
A handgun, purchased by Hackler and given to Dickens as a gift, lay on the kitchen counter.
"What would you do if I shot Jeremiah?" Bauhaus asked after picking up the handgun.
A few minutes later, he picked it up again, holding it sideways in his palm while looking at it. Unaware of where the muzzle was pointed, he pulled the trigger, he said.
It was pointed at Hackler, who died that night of a gunshot wound to the chest.
While Bauhaus’s attorney, Keith Faulkner, argued that Bauhaus had no experience with handguns, was unfamiliar with gun safety and was under the impression that the gun was not loaded, the prosecution was skeptical.
Chief Prosecuting Attorney Hugh Finkelstein said Bauhaus understood rifle safety, he knew where the clip would have been loaded, and he felt the weight of the loaded handgun he held on the night of Sept. 24.
"There are no easy answers," Clawson said. "Bauhaus will carry these images with him for the rest of his life, the Hacklers will have only memories and a 2-year-old will never know what he might of have learned from his father."
Jeremiah Hackler was a strong-willed, curious child with a strong sense of family and affection, who grew up to be a great father to his 2-year-old son, his parents said.
When he was diagnosed with stage four cancer as a teen, he was more concerned with comforting his distraught grandfather than with his own prognosis.
"It hurt him to see his grandfather hurt," James Hackler said during an emotional testimony.
Jeremiah completed difficult chemotherapy treatments at age 15, an example of the bravery and determination that his parents said made him so special.
He loved learning, said his mother, Patty Hackler, and he loved to debate.
"He always made me defend my position," she said. "He loved to learn, and he loved history."
As they viewed photos of their son’s life, James and Patty Hackler spoke of Jeremiah’s interests in law enforcement, sports and music.
"He enjoyed guitars, and he wanted to sing," James Hackler said. "We gave him a guitar at 13, and he did well."
On a large screen in the courtroom, a video of Jeremiah played. His pastor had passed away from cancer, and he played an acoustic version of Toby Keith’s "Cryin’ for Me" and posted it on YouTube.
"Jeremiah would not want Patrick to have a lifelong mark against him as a result of this," his father said. "He is absolutely remorseful, and I am convinced he did not mean for what transpired to transpire."
Bauhaus pleaded no contest to one charge of manslaughter, a Class C felony, on March 16, 2015.
(Staff writer Jessica Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)