How often are people mistaken as home invaders and accidentally shot?: It looks to be extremely rare

Jan 30, 2014 | Featured

We get this question often. It comes out of claims made by Arthur Kellermann and his research claiming the risk about having guns in the home. No official government statistics are collected on such cases, so we decided to do a news search to get a rough idea of the magnitude of these cases. Our impression is that when an event like this occurs it gets a lot of news coverage. For 2013, we have found eight cases where the wrong person was killed and another two cases where they were wounded. we don’t put much weight on the cases involving woundings, but my guess is that the cases of deaths are much more accurate. Of course, if we have missed any cases, we would appreciate being informed of that.

Yet, there is a perception that these cases represent a significant problem. Some cases get international news coverage. In a case from South Africa, Oscar Pistorius claimed he was in fear of his life when he shot his girl friend four times through a locked door. Pistorius’ case probably got the coverage that it did because he had been in the Olympics and his explanation that it was an accident seemed so implausible.

Deaths in the US in 2013
1) Stepdad who shot teen girl is decorated Fort Carson officer – December 26, 2013

A man who told police he shot and killed his 14-year-old stepdaughter after mistaking her for a burglar is a 29-year-old Fort Carson officer with multiple deployments behind him and a Bronze Star for service. Sources on Wednesday confirmed that 2nd Lt. Daniel R. Meade is at the center of the tragedy that has drawn headlines across the world.

Some of that news coverage from around the world is available here, here, and here.

2) Ronald Westbrook, Alzheimer’s Patient, Killed After Being Mistaken For Intruder: Cops – November 28, 2013

New York Daily News — “The shooter, Joe Hendrix, is not facing charges for fatally shooting 72-year-old Ronald Westbrook, who tried to get into his northwest Georgia home early Wednesday. Authorities say Westbrook was lost and disoriented.

Other stories are available here, here, and here.

3) Police: Polk mom mistakes daughter for boyfriend, shoots and kills her – November 27, 2013

WINTER HAVEN — A 26-year-old Winter Haven woman is dead and her 52-year-old mother has been charged with shooting her in an apparent case of mistaken identity, police said.

4) Homeowner Says He Shot Renisha McBride in the Face By Accident – November 7, 2013

“mistook Ms McBride for an intruder”

5) High school track star shot and killed after jumping out of closet in prank gone horribly wrong: father – SEPTEMBER 8, 2013

Colorado “The 18-year-old girl and her cousin apparently snuck into her house about 8 p.m. Friday to scare her brother and friend. But when Nerrek Daniel Galley, 21, heard a noise he shot and then identified the teen later, police say.”

CNN has discussion about the case available here.

6) Orlando boy shoots, kills younger brother, 12, after mistaking him for a home invader – MARCH 23, 2013

A 12-year-old mistaken for a home invader in Florida was shot and killed by his older brother in a heartbreaking tragedy. The midday incident in Orlando was an accident, police said. The 16-year-old and younger brother were home alone when the older boy heard noises, feared an intruder and shot and killed his brother. Realizing the mistake, the boy called 911.

Other news stories are available here, here, here, here, and here.

7) Caleb Gordley shot and killed in Sterling, Virginia – March 18, 2013

Loudoun County Sheriff’s officials say that between 2:30 and 3 a.m. Sunday, a homeowner in the 4500 block of Pullman Court shot and killed a juvenile intruder. Before the shooting, an alarm was activated inside the home, and the homeowner says he discovered 16-year-old Caleb A. Gordley on the stairwell.
Sterling teenager shot and killed after entering wrong home: A Sterling teenager was shot and killed after he apparently entered a home thinking it was his own and was mistaken for a burglar or home invader. Police said Caleb Gordley, 16, had been drinking and entered a neighbor’s home through a back window.

Other news stories are available here, here, and here.

8) Police: Man mistakes wife for intruder, shoots her – March 10, 2013

The Yakima County sheriff’s office says a man mistook his pregnant wife for an intruder at their Terrace Heights home and shot her, leaving her in critical condition. Deputy Robert Udell says investigators don’t suspect any criminal activity, and that the woman’s husband is cooperating. Udell says the woman is eight weeks pregnant. She was shot once early Friday morning in the couple’s bedroom. She is in the hospital in critical but stable condition. The couple’s names were not released. Both are in their twenties.

The woman ended up dying from the shooting.

1) Lawton, Oklahoma: Man shoots wife; claims he thought she was intruder — September 24, 2013

Officers were called to a house near 7th and G Avenue at 3 a.m. on reports a 34-year-old woman was shot in the shoulder. Her husband was also there. They both tell police it was an accident. The husband claims he thought his wife was an intruder because they’ve been dealing with burglars. He told police he saw a shadowy figure standing in his bedroom so he fired a 30 caliber rifle before learning it was his wife.

2) Teen shot after relative mistakes him for an intruder – November 18, 2013

When 55-year-old James Wolf heard some noise coming from the back of his house around midnight Sunday, he grabbed his handgun. He was fearing someone was trying to break in, and through the shadows, he saw a figure standing there. “He told the subject to freeze. The subject didn’t say anything, started walking towards him, and that’s when James Wolf fired one shot,” said Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Cristen Rensel. Wolf hadn’t shot an intruder. He shot his 17-year-old nephew who lives at the house. The bullet went through Taylor Titus’s arm.



  1. Linda garcia
    • johnrlott

      Who was sweeping anything under the rug? You are cherry-picking a few incidents. What we tried to do is go through and systematically measure the rate that these types of events are occurring. The proper comparison is to compare the rate of people using guns to stop home invasions versus the rate that bad events happen. If you had any cases that we missed over the time frame that we looked at, that would be very helpful. I don’t really care what views that you have, but since you are ignoring the point being made here about the rate of these attacks occurring, color me skeptical that you have the beliefs that you claim that you do.


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