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01-04-2005, 12:59 PM
Gastonia teen dead, two hurt in New Year's tradition of gunfire

08:39 AM EST on Monday, January 3, 2005

By The Associated Press

A two-century-old local New Year Day's tradition of firing muskets into the air left an 18-year-old dead and two other shooters injured.

Matthew Kenneth Shook, 18, of Gastonia was killed when a black-powder rifle he'd raised to fire exploded in his hands on New Year's Day, Gaston County police said. He died at the Lincoln Regional Medical Center.

Since German settlers began the celebration about 250 years ago, residents of Cherryville and other communities have fired off muskets with the hope that the sound would help their crops and bring good luck. In Cherryville, the firing begins at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day and continues through the evening.

Shook wasn't taking part in the formal Cherryville celebrations, but he and his friends had found a traditional musket to fire for the New Year. The accident happened around 1 a.m. Saturday at a party outside of Dallas, police and a family friend said.

"We don't know where the gun came from," family friend Angie McCurry said. "They were shooting it off. They were just trying to get the sound effects from it."

Shook's best friend loaded the .50-caliber gun with black powder, McCurry said, then handed it to Shook for the first shot.

The gun exploded, sending pieces of the metal barrel into the side of Shook's head, said Tim Jones, a Gaston Emergency Medical Service assistant shift supervisor who treated him.

About 14 miles to the west, the two groups of organized Cherryville shooters were just getting started. The groups traveled to more than 50 homes each and fired black powder from their muskets at every stop. Then a couple of hundred shooters gathered at the local stadium shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday for the finale in front of a full house.

The spectacle ended early after one Cherryville man's musket exploded. Shrapnel flew into the shooter's chest and arm, Jones said. A piece of the gun flew backward possibly breaking another man's leg, he said.

Neither of the injuries were life-threatening, Jones said. Identities were not available Sunday.

Shook, a 2004 graduate of North Gaston High, lived with his mother and stepfather while taking classes at Gaston College. He also worked for Tyco Inc. in Rock Hill, S.C.