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Mourning family of 3-year-old killed in Independence wants answers, charges filed

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — A 3-year-old’s tragic death on Christmas Eve from a gunshot wound has left more questions than answers.

Benjamin Cope Jr. not only missed Christmas with his family but also his fourth birthday, which was just days after he died.

With charges still not filed, his family spoke out Tuesday for the first time in their pursuit of justice while also trying to understand how this could have happened.

“He’s 3 years old, and he didn’t get to enjoy anything, nothing,” Cope’s great-grandmother Diana Hendrix said. “It — the pain just every day, you think about it now. It’s, it won’t go away.”

“He was always happy, always smiling,” said Miranda McFarland, Cope’s grandmother. “I mean, he was a happy baby, a good baby.”

Just like any other little boy, he loved his toys, loved to smile and had a special bond with his 5-year-old sister.

“They were just, they were so cute. I mean, they enjoyed life together, and that’s something that’s going to affect his sister,” McFarland said.

Police said on Christmas Eve the 3-year-old boy took a gun off Ashton Cleveland’s lap. That gun went off, and Cope died. Cleveland fled the scene, according to police, and he was then involved in a hit-and-run crash. Court records say he again drove off before he was arrested in Omaha, Nebraska.

Over a week since his arrest, Cleveland is still in jail in Nebraska, waiting to be extradited to Jackson County where he faces charges related to the hit-and-run crash. He has not been charged at this time in relation to Cope’s death.

“It’s hard to believe that a 3-year-old is going to pick up a gun, use the trigger, be able to pull the trigger to shoot himself. So there’s, the truth is out there, but it needs to be told,” Hendrix said.

As the family waits for justice, praying someone is held responsible for the death of their little boy, they said gun violence across the Kansas City metro needs to end.

“It needs to stop. It needs to stop. What is — I don’t understand the deal on these people getting guns just to go kill people,” Hendrix said.

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