Dayton boy killed in gun accident remembered as vibrant, fun
DAYTON — A picture shows Gage Wilkinson when he wasn’t yet 2 years old. He’s riding a scooter, wearing his sister’s pink helmet, barely able to reach the handlebars.
“He wouldn’t ride the one with two wheels in the back,” said his dad, Mike.
“There was no fear in that kid,” added his mom, Missie. “None.”
As he grew older, he never grew out of that fearlessness. From skateboarding to football to his passion for dirt bikes, Gage went full-throttle. And there are the photographs — one of him posing with a snake he caught down by the river just a couple of weeks ago — to back it up.
Those photos of the irrepressible boy, with his disheveled dirty-blond hair falling past his ears and nearly into his brown eyes, are all the family has to remember the 12-year-old Dayton Intermediate School student who was killed in an accidental shooting Sunday.
While the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office has not released a report, Detective J.L. Pattison said the shooting at 11:18 a.m. Sunday in the 1500 block of Riverpark Parkway was confirmed to be accidental.
The family has not received all the details, Mike said. As he understands it, he said, Gage and two friends were hanging out at a friend’s house when one of the boys went to retrieve something from another room. Somehow, a gun was fired from that room, hitting Gage in the hallway.
Of one thing, both parents are certain.
“They weren’t playing with guns,” Mike said.
“My son did not play with guns,” she said. “He’s been instilled about gun safety.”
When deputies arrived at the family-owned Roadrunner Café, Mike said his instant fear was that his son had been injured in a dirt-biking accident. When police delivered the grim news, his world blurred.
“I don’t remember the 10 minutes after that,” Mike said.
As word spread throughout the small Dayton community, people rushed to give support. Businesses hung yellow ribbons out front, in honor of Gage’s favorite color. A Facebook page in Gage’s memory garnered more than 1,000 likes in its first day. Friends stop by to check on the family. Well wishes have come from surrounding communities, including Carson City and Virginia City, where the family owns Heidi’s Restaurant and the Palace, and where Gage competed in football and baseball. A candlelight vigil was held Thursday evening.
“I’m just extremely overwhelmed and grateful,” said Missie, who has been living in Florida as the couple goes through a separation. “It goes beyond words. My heart’s warmed to know how much the community thought of my son.”
Gage’s sister Gabrielle worries some people got the wrong impression of her brother.
“He was very misunderstood,” she said. “But he had a kind heart.”
“He was, at times, a little rough around the edges,” Mike explained. But, he said, it was just a boy growing into a big personality.
“He used to joke that he had ADHD,” Mike recalled. “I’d say, ‘Dude, you’re 12. Go outside. Play. Run. Get dirty. That’s what kids are supposed to do.’”
And Gage did.
“He lived life to the fullest, to the extreme,” Missie said. “That’s the only way he would do it. There was no middle ground, no slowing down. He would wake up at dawn and get on his motorbike and be gone for hours. He’d check in. Swindle us for gas money.”
Knowing they encouraged their son in all of his pursuits, starting with rock collecting when he was little, gives his parents comfort. And their faith helps them reconcile the inexplicable.
Mike typed a text message to Gage around 10 Sunday morning, telling him to come by the restaurant for breakfast. When Gage didn’t respond, Mike checked his phone to realize he’d never sent the message. But he doesn’t dwell on the “what-if.”
“There’s a little bit of guilt, but I think it was his time to go,” Mike said. “For me, it’s like someone up there has a book. You have a beginning date and here’s your end date. God needs him more than we do.”
Missie is still struggling with that.
“I just want to see his freckles again,” she said.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.