Fatal Gunshot Wound to the Head With Lack of Immediate Incapacitation


Investigation of deaths caused by penetrating gunshot wounds to the head often raises the possibility of foul play. The forensic pathologist may be asked if the victim was able to perform certain acts after the gunshot, and how quickly this person might have become incapacitated. The possibility of a suicidal act can depend on these answers. We report the case of a 45-year-old woman whose body was found with a right temporal entrance wound. A shotgun was found 60 ft from the body location. The question of knowing if this woman had been able to shoot herself in the head and then walk a distance of 60 ft before dying was essential for the investigation, as suicide was the first hypothesis. The autopsy and a careful neuropathology investigation allowed to answer this question. In the literature, multiple publications report cases of victims who were able to act following penetrating ballistic head injury.

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    ABSTRACT: Poorly designed experiments and popular media have led to multiple myths about wound ballistics. Some of these myths have been incorporated into the trauma literature as fact and are included in Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS). We hypothesized that these erroneous beliefs would be prevalent, even among those providing care for patients with gunshot wounds (GSWs), but could be addressed through education. ATLS course content was reviewed. Several myths involving wound ballistics were identified. Clinically relevant myths were chosen including wounding mechanism, lead poisoning, debridement, and antibiotic use. Subsequently, surgery and emergency medicine services at three different trauma centers were studied. All three sites were busy, urban trauma centers with a significant amount of penetrating trauma. A pre-test was administered prior to a lecture on wound ballistics followed by a post-test. Pre- and post-test scores were compared and correlated with demographic data including ATLS course completion, firearm/ballistics experience, and years of post-graduate medical experience (PGME). One-hundred and fifteen clinicians participated in the study. A mean pre-test score of 34 % improved to 78 % on the post-test with associated improvements in all areas of knowledge (p < 0.001). Years of PGME correlated with higher pre-test score (p = 0.021); however, ATLS status did not (p = 0.774). Erroneous beliefs involving wound ballistics are prevalent even among clinicians who frequently treat victims of GSWs and could lead to inappropriate treatment. Focused education markedly improved knowledge. The ATLS course and manual promulgate some of these myths and should be revised.
    World Journal of Surgery 02/2015; 39(7). DOI:10.1007/s00268-015-3004-x · 2.64 Impact Factor