Understanding Gun Shot Injuries

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Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 7.37.19 PMAll firearm injuries resulting in death will fall into the manner of homicide, suicide, or accident, all will come under the jurisdiction of a medical examiner or coroner, and the local Law Enforcement. Injuries not resulting in death will  remain the jurisdiction of the local Law Enforcement.  However, you may still wish to consult a medicolegal death investigator for injury and other assistance.

It is not uncommon for a person to survive a firearm wound, eventually succumbing to remote complications of the wound weeks, months, or even years later. However, such a case remains of medicolegal interest if it can be shown to be directly or indirectly related to the initial wound.

Care should be taken not to disturb blood patterns on the floor or walls, as they may give indications as to the site of injury and the degree of activity of the decedent after injury. The position and location of the firearm should be carefully noted, if present, and if the firearm loaded, is a round chambered, are fired rounds in the cylinder, is the weapon cocked;  is of primary importance. Any projectile found beneath the decedent, stuck to clothing, or other areas should be photographed and recovered at that time to prevent the possibility of loss during transport.

If firearm primer residue sampling is desired, it may be collected at the scene, or the hands may be covered by paper (not plastic) bags before transport to prevent evidentiary loss during transport.

The presence of bullet strikes on the walls of a room should be noted, as these can serve as reference points for later reconstruction of the position of a shooter when combined with a trajectory through the body.

Range of Fire

Range of fire, or muzzle to target distance, may be divided into contact, near contact, intermediate, and distant categories, with various subtypes also demonstrable. Contact and intermediate range wounds are often collectively referred to as close­-range wounds. Determination of range of fire is based on the characteristics of a firearm wound, features of the wound that have been imparted by material coming from the muzzle of the firearm other than the bullet, or from features due to direct interactions between the target and the firearm itself. Material from the firearm muzzle may take the form of soot, hot gas, gunpowder particles, or other material.

Entrance v. Exit

NEVER – Assume you know an entrance from an exit. Some characteristic are common. However, many factors can change wound types. You can suspect, but always let the Pathologist say for sure. It is bad reporting and embarrassing for you to call an entrance wound an exit, might change the entire investigation

Bullets can do odd things when entering or exiting a body

  • More than one entrance for one bullet
  • Deflection Entrance   (ricochet)
  • Skin may seal over
  • Oblong / Sideways entry
  • Fragment Exit

Firearm entrance wounds are typically round to oval, with smooth edges and a zone of epidermal (skin) abrasion surrounding the wound edge.This abrasion is caused by the rubbing or scraping of surrounding skin surfaces by the bullet as it indents the skin before perforating it. If the bullet strikes perpendicular to the skin, the abrasion will be of uniform width around the wound, as seen in the image below.

Exit wounds are usually irregular, have no abrasion rim, and do not display soot deposition or stippling.They may have a stellate configuration, or, particularly in the event of a low ­velocity exit wound, have a slit-like configuration. These can be deceptively sharp appearing and can mimic a stab wound.


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About the Author
Darren is a 30 year veteran of law enforcement and criminal investigations. He currently serves as an investigator for the Crawford County Missouri coroner’s office. He holds credentials as an instructor for the Missouri Sheriff’s Training Academy, has served as president of the Missouri Medical Examiners and Coroners Association, and is certified and credentialed in numerous fields of investigation. He holds the position of lead instructor and facilitator for the Coroner Talk™ community as he speaks and writes in the area of death investigation and scene management.

2 comments on Understanding Gun Shot Injuries

  1. Gene Turley says:

    It would be a lot better if we had access to the pictures of your presentations.

  2. Kweku Ananse says:

    Pictures would make it more nice.

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