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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Friday July 19th 2024

Tales: September ’23


Teen Gun Deaths Rob Lives, Devastate Shooters, Cause Individual and Community, Long-Term PTSD

Three accidental shooting victims at Cemetery


Glenn Phillips
On August 11, 1904, twelve-year-old Glenn Phillips shot and killed John Pala, his best friend. Everyone agreed that it was an accident. Just kids horsing around when Glenn pulled the trigger on a revolver and shot a boy who had been his friend for years.

The two boys were playing near the east end of the Franklin Avenue Bridge when another boy told them that he had hidden some candy from his father’s store in an outbuilding. The two boys went looking for it. Accounts about how and when Phillips got the gun differ. The Minneapolis Journal said that he found it in the outbuilding. The Minneapolis Tribune said that he had been carrying it around for several days, using it to shoot fish and birds. What was clear is that he pulled the trigger twice and that one bullet struck his friend in the head.

Glenn ran for help and the police and two doctors were summoned. The police got their first, placed John into a patrol wagon and headed for the City Hospital. He died just as they got there.
The police interviewed Glenn. He was devastated. His father told reporters that his son hadn’t been able to sleep since the accident and that he was worried about whether his son would ever get over what he had done.

John was born in February 1890, the oldest of George and Mary Pala’s nine children. His parents were Slovak immigrants who were first listed in the Minneapolis City Directory in 1892. At the time they were living on the lower levee of the Mississippi River, a community largely made up of Slovak immigrants and their families. George Pala worked as a molder. John was the first of the family’s three children who died young. The others were a baby girl who was stillborn on January 29, 1905, and four-month-old Thomas, who died from pneumonia on April 1, 1908. John’s father died from accidental illuminating gas poisoning on June 5, 1916; he was 53 years old. All four are buried in the Cemetery.

Henry Speich
John was just one of three teenagers buried in the Cemetery who died from accidental shootings. The first was 15-year-old Henry Speich. Henry was the son of Barbara, the widow of Mathias Speich. She worked as a milliner to support herself and her children. At the time of his death, Henry worked in a cigar store. His employers described him as a “steady and industrious boy”.

One of Henry’s friends had bought three silver plated pistols. He kept one and gave the others to two other boys, each twelve years old. The boys had been playing with the guns for a few days. On Saturday, July 11, 1874, they were shooting the guns in a brickyard. One boy’s gun jammed and another boy attempted to fix it. The gun went off, a bullet struck Henry in the head. He died six days later.

John Zgodava
The third boy was John Zgodava. He was born in Slovakia on April 9, 1896, the son of John and Anna Zgodava. John Jr. was five years old when his family came to the United States. John Sr. worked as a cooper and the family lived on the Bohemian Flats.

A photo of a typical house on the Bohemian Flats, a community of recently-arrived immigrants. The Pala and Zgodaea families would have lived in similar housing when they first settled in Minneapolis. SOURCE: Hennepin County Library

On Saturday, December 6, 1913, the night that he died, John Jr. and two of his friends were shooting at birds. John’s gun jammed. One of his friends tried to fix it by loosening a spring near the gun’s hammer and the gun went off striking John. His friends carried him to a nearby house, but by the time that an ambulance arrived, John had died. He was buried next to his younger brother, Mike Zgodava, who had died five months earlier, on July 29, 1912, from pneumonia; he was two and a-half years old.

In 2020, more children under the age of 18 died from gunshot wounds than from any other cause. Nationwide in 2022, 1,676 children died after having been shot. While only 5% of those deaths were accidental, that still means that the family and friends of 83 children were left to mourn their loss.

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