Photo Gallery

Carly Ellis

How to help

A GoFundMe has been set up to help the Ellis family

some text
A man identified as Aaron Randal, 22, who accidentally discharged a weapon and killed a 19-year-old woman at 1206 Lewis St., holds his head in his hands as Chattanooga police investigate the shooting scene on Monday.

Unintentional Firearm Deaths in Tennessee by Year

Data unavailable - 2014

19 - 2013

25 - 2012

27 - 2011

32 - 2010

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

Unintentional Firearm Deaths in Georgia by Year

30 - 2014

24 - 2013

36 - 2012

27 - 2011

42 - 2010

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

Unintentional Firearm Deaths in the United States by Year

586 -2014

505 - 2013

548 - 2012

591 - 2011

606 - 2010

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control


At first, everything was normal when David Allen picked up his cousin's call Tuesday afternoon.

But after a minute of chatting, she stopped him.

"You don't know, do you?" she said.

"Know what?"

And then she told him that his niece, 19-year-old Carly Ellis, had been unintentionally shot and killed at a home on Lewis Street in Chattanooga. Aaron Randal, 22, was handling a weapon inside the home when it fired — the blast went through a wall and hit Ellis in the neck.

Allen was shocked. And his sister, Scherre Allen Ellis, was devastated. She lost her only child.

There would be no grandchildren.

The family gathered at Scherre Ellis' home as word of Carly's death spread. They talked, hugged, cried. Mourned.

"We are grieved beyond comprehension," Allen said Wednesday.

Ellis was an upbeat, optimistic woman who grew up in Chattanooga. She was a cheerleader and gymnast, graduated from Ooltewah High School in 2014 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for a year. She was last enrolled at UTC in spring 2015, school officials confirmed, and then opted to take a year off, Allen said.

She was working two jobs — at Raw Chattanooga and Bar Louie — and was talking about going back to school for nursing, he said. She had a way of staying out of trouble, Allen said, of staying above the fray.

"It seems like she always did that," he said. "She had a couple bumps in her life growing up, things that were not her fault, and she always seemed to be above it. She was always upbeat."

On Tuesday, Ellis planned to go on a spring break camping trip with Randal and other friends, Allen said. They were hanging out at the home on Lewis Street before the trip when Ellis was shot.

Randal has not been arrested or criminally charged. He is a cheerleader and current student at UTC, spokesman Chuck Cantrell confirmed.

Allen called the shooting an accident but declined to say whether the family would like to see prosecutors press charges.

"I'm a gun guy myself," he said slowly. "But you have to always assume it's loaded. It's senseless."

Ellis is at least the sixth person to be unintentionally shot and killed in Tennessee so far this year, according to the Safe Tennessee Project, which tracks media reports of accidental shootings.

Two other adults and three children have been unintentionally shot and killed in the state during 2016, including 3-year-old Gavin Pittman, who found a gun in a glovebox and shot himself in Apison on Feb. 29.

And unintentional fatal shootings happen more frequently in Tennessee than in most other states in the nation, according to a January study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study flagged seven states that have higher rates of unintentional firearm deaths than the national average. In West Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee, unintentional firearm fatalities occur at two to four times the national rate.

In other states, the study flagged other causes of death — like drowning, suicide or suffocation — as happening more frequently than the national average.

All of the states flagged for unintentional firearm fatalities were in the South, and the researchers suggested the region's social norm of gun ownership may contribute to the elevated pace. The study noted that none of the flagged states have "safe storage laws" that require guns to be stored in a safe manner.

During the last five years, unintentional shooting deaths have hovered around 25 per year in Tennessee, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 19 unintentional fatal shootings in Tennessee during 2013, according to the agency. In 2014, that number skyrocketed to 105 unintentional fatal shootings — but that increase is just a mistake, according to the CDC. 

The agency said Thursday that a coding error caused the number of reported accidental shootings to show massive increases in several states in 2014. The agency was unable to provide an accurate number for the year, but said the error will not impact future data. 

Ladd Everitt, director of communications at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said that in general, accidental shootings are often misreported as other incidents — labeled as "homicides" or "suicides" — so the actual number of incidents is usually higher than the number that agencies such as the CDC record.

"Right now, we live in a country where you're pretty free to screw around with a gun and violate basic gun safety rules without a lot of worry in terms of any legal consequence for that type of behavior," Everitt said. "This is something where we need to see a cultural shift in this equation of a gun owner's rights and responsibilities."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-7578-6525 or with tips or story ideas. Follow @ShellyBradbury

This story was updated on March 17 to reflect the CDC's error in reporting the number of unintentional shootings in Tennessee in 2014.