Suicide or Homicide?

I know very little about pump shotguns and wanted to get the opinions of those of you that do. Recently a family member committed ‘suicide’ by shooting himself in the chest (near the sternum) with a 20 gauge pump shotgun while arguing with his girlfriend. For a month or so after his death I thought how terrible it was that he felt so hopeless that he would see suicide as the only way out. After I began hearing different versions of what happened that night I went to the coroner’s office and got a copy of the coroner’s report. It stated a 20 gauge pump shotgun was used and the ejected spent casing was located on the floor a few inches from the weapon near his feet. There were no other shells in the chamber of the gun. I was told by a coroner friend that if he really would have shot himself in the chest, the spent casing would have still been inside the gun and not on the floor. He said someone had to have pumped the gun after my family member was shot in order to eject the spent casing. Can anyone please help me with this?


I am not sure how your jurisdiction works, but your law enforcement agency should have responded and they will have a report. It’s usual in cases like this to investigate homicide before deciding a death is a suicide. The coroner’s report may be focused much more on the body with only incidental mention of elements of the scene. The police report would include interviews and other evidence gathering.

Regarding the shell, the shotgun may have been manipulated by someone who came upon the scene – people do odd things sometimes in times of crisis and shock.

Hope that helps.

It’s possible that one of the responding officers removed the shell. One of the first things a cop will do is make any weapons at the scene (even those that are evidence) safe by opening up the action. In the case of a pump shotgun that would include the shell being ejected when the action was opened up.

If you can, get a copy of the police report and see what it says.

Since this involves legal issues, let’s move it to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

The police did not gather anything from the scene and left it untouched until the coroner arrived. There was no autopsy done, no toxicology, or any other post mordem test done whatsoever. This is the police explanation the police gave me regarding the ejected shell being on the floor.
" It is not uncommon for a shell to eject from a pump shotgun in a suicide. Many time due to the proximity of the barrel to the body, all of the explosive gasses cannot escape from the barrel of the gun so the only way the gasses can escape are through the breech causing the shell to eject."

Can anyone confirm or deny that explanation?

Thanks for the help with this. I appreciate it.

I would think it quite possible that if a pump shotgun after being fired fell or recoiled and hit butt first on the floor.
The weight of the forend would be enough to open the action and eject a spent cartridge.
I think there is a high probability that this is what happened.
(I am not a lawyer, but I do know about pump shotguns.)

This was recently done on the latest season of Longmire, available on Netflix. First time poster. You decide.

The police normally don’t determine if it was suicide or homicide. The coroner does. So, who made the call?

The police won’t let me see the police reports, even though I am next of kin and it’s not being investigated. I spoke to the coroner that responded to the call and he said from looking at the scene and the position of everything in the room, he was in a sitting position (against a door) on several layers of blankets and sleeping bags. It happened at 1:30am (based on the 911 call) and his time of death was 2:09am. He was fully dressed. I asked how he was able to pull the trigger on the long shotgun and wasn’t given any real response. I asked if he could have used his foot and if he was barefooted to which they told me he was wearing socks. I don’t know about shotguns but I’d think it was a pretty safe bet that the shotgun could not have fallen with enough force to eject the spent casing being it would have fallen in the many layers of blankets and the fact that he was in a sitting position.

What are the thoughts regarding the explanation I was given by police? Can the explanation they gave me cause the shell to eject on its own?

I can’t answer the firearms aspect of your question, but I do find it odd that no autopsies were done on your relative. Anyone who dies undergoes an autopsy, let alone who died in a violent fashion. It’s necessary to determine if it were homicide or suicide.

That would alone answer your question.
Good luck!

Untrue. The vast majority of people who die do not get autopsied.

Autopsies are not necessarily mandated for violent deaths either. Often, limited exam of the body is sufficient to demonstrate what occurred.

The most common reasons for autopsies are

  1. Suspicion of Foul Play

  2. Infectious or Contagious Disease

  3. Infant Death

  4. Inmate Death

  5. Family Request

When a pump shotgun is loaded it must be “pumped” in order for the shell to be moved from the magazine where it was loaded, into the chamber to fire. Once that it done the pump action locks into place. (The action cannot be pumped again unless the gun is fired or the override button is pushed). When the trigger is pulled the gun fires and then the pump action is unlocked, ready to be pumped again, but unless the action is manually pumped the spent case will not eject. It has to be done manually.

??? Not in California. My mother shot herself in the head, and there was no autopsy. My roommate passed away from complications of diabetes, and the police officer who first responded to my call waived the M.E. entirely; the body was taken straight to a funeral home. No autopsy, no coroner, nothin’.

I think they may sometimes not bother when a case is absolutely open-and-shut.

Is this true of all pump shotguns? I’ve seen people empty them by repeatedly working the slide, ejecting the shells one by one. When you pump it and nothing comes out, you know it’s empty.

Is it possible that some older models don’t have an override button at all?

Well, obviously, you are the most likely suspect. So of course the police won’t let you see any police reports, or even tell you that it’s still being investigated.

What stands out to me is the pile of blankets and sleeping bags he was sitting upon. A suicidal person may plan this detail as to leave less of a mess for others to clean up. But you say it was an impulsive suicide during an argument with his girlfriend.

So who planned for easy clean up? The Maid? The Butler? Or are they just lousy house keepers.

I would discount the pulling the trigger by his toes idea, his finger should have been able to reach the trigger with the barrel against his chest.

What brand and model of shotgun? You should be able to find that out if he was a family member. Someone bought it, maybe someone has pictures of it. Someone in your family owns it now, the police won’t just keep it, especially if they are not investigating. If you are next of kin you own it now, ask for it back.

But in general, somebody had to cycle the pump for the spent shell to be expelled.

Thank you for your response. I agree with your thought process and explanation.

Thank you for your input. I very much appreciate it!

I am his daughter and I just turned 18. I can promise I’m not a suspect so for the heartless person that claimed I was, f*** you! I feel sorry for worthless people like you. My only concern is my daddy. No, there was no insurance policy. I don’t stand to make a dime…I only care about the truth in what happened to my daddy.

Yes people empty a loaded shotgun by repeatedly pumping the action, but the override button is held down while doing so. I have never seen a pump shotgun without such a button. BTW, what I am referring to as an “override” is actually called an action release button.