A dangerous prank turned deadly when a Manchester, Vt., man shot and killed his friend Thursday. He told police he mistook a .22-caliber rifle for an air gun, but firearms experts say they are both considered lethal weapons.
Mark Spafford of Otter Valley Supply in Rutland said it can be very easy to confuse the two weapons if you are unfamiliar with them, because their weight and size are very similar, but he said they are fired off much differently.
"You could have two side by side and somebody that didn't know about guns wouldn't be able to tell the two apart," Spafford said.
Spafford is a licensed firearms retailer and said he was shocked to hear the news about a Manchester man shooting and killing his sleeping friend-- mostly because of the fact there was a loaded gun in the house.
"The first rule about firearm safety is you never point a gun at another person," Spafford said. "You always assume a weapon is loaded, until it is proven unloaded and safe."
On Thursday morning, 121 Eagle Rise Road was home to a tragic accident. Nicholas Bell, 23, of Manchester, told police he was attempting to pull a prank on his friend who was asleep in bed and shoot him with the air rifle to wake him up. But instead of an air rifle, Bell shot a loaded .22-caliber rifle. Jeffrey Charbonneau, 24, of Manchester, suffered a gunshot wound to the chest and died at the scene.
Spafford says the bullets are different sizes, but in close range an air rifle can be just as deadly as a .22.
"It is smaller, but it is capable-- say if you got it between a rib-- you could kill somebody with one of these little pellets," he said.
He said the guns have become much more powerful over the years and should not be treated as a toy.
"It is kind of hard to mistake them for a toy-- they do not look like toys anymore. They are not small miniature rifles, they are full size," Spafford said.
Bell was arrested and charged with manslaughter. He is being held in Marble Valley Correctional Center on $250,000 bail.
Two other people were in the condo when the shooting happened, but police won't say who the homeowner is. We also don't know who owns the gun. But Spafford says if it's not Bell or Charbonneau, that other person could face charges, too.