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N.J. 6-year-old shot by 4-year-old

TOMS RIVER, N.J. — A 4 year old who brought a gun outside his southern New Jersey home seriously wounded a 6-year-old neighbor in the head when the weapon discharged as they played together, authorities said Tuesday.

The boy got the .22-caliber rifle from his home in Toms River and it discharged accidentally Monday night, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said.

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The children were about 15 yards apart.

The younger boy’s mother called 911 to report the shooting, Coronato said.

The 6-year-old was hospitalized in serious condition, authorities said. They did not give more details or identify either boy. The younger child was not hurt.

Coronato said it was too early in the investigation to know whether anyone would be charged. He would not say who owned the gun or speculate on how the 4-year-old got it.

Police Chief Michael Mastronardy called the shooting tragic and said it affected the whole community.

‘‘Right now, we’re keeping this child in our prayers, and I ask everyone to do the same,’’ he said.

Ronald Holt told the Asbury Park Press and Star-Ledger newspapers that the victim was his son, Brandon, the youngest of his three children.

Reached by the Associated Press, he declined to comment.

Neighbors in the quiet, residential part of the Ocean County community identified the children as boys.

One said their families had not lived in the neighborhood long and she did not know them well.

‘‘I’m sad for the children involved and their families, but I’m angry with whoever owns that gun and allowed a little child to get hold of it. A 4-year-old can’t load a gun,’’ said Debi Coto, who lives a few doors down.

‘‘I had just been telling my sister how nice it is to see kids playing together and enjoying themselves, and then this happens,’’ she said.

Coto said the 4-year-old’s mother was very upset and appeared to be trying to determine what had happened.

The shooting came just days after a 4-year-old boy in Tennessee grabbed a loaded gun at a family cookout and accidentally shot to death the wife of a sheriff’s deputy, and amid debate over gun control laws in the wake of December’s Connecticut school massacre.

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