Evidence of drug operation found in home where boy, 12, shot himself, cops say

The father of a 12-year-old boy who he shot himself in January, but is now recovering in a hospital, was arrested after investigators say they found evidence of a drug manufacturing operation inside the family’s home.

Detectives who responded to the shooting said they found evidence of a synthetic marijuana — also known as spice — manufacturing operation at the home in the 4000 block of 100th Drive East in Parrish.

Lt. Mark Morie with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office’s Crimes Against Children unit said officials could not elaborate on the details of what was found in the house as the investigation is ongoing.

Haitham Suleiman, 41, was arrested Wednesday without incident and taken to the Manatee County jail on charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of a residence to manufacture a controlled substance, trafficking in synthetic cannabinoids, possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia.

The boy has been hospitalized since the Jan. 9 incident. According to the sheriff’s office, his condition has improved but he is still receiving treatment.

Morie said officials know the wound was self inflicted but are still determining whether it was accidental or intentional.

Stephen Crawford, Suleiman’s attorney, said during his client’s first appearance in court Thursday that the shooting was accidental.

Crawford said the child is coming out of a medically induced coma and recovering.

Charlie Britt, also representing Suleiman, said there are signs of improvement but it’s unclear how he will recover long-term.

Suleiman was in the living room on Jan. 9 helping his 12-year-old son with homework before the boy got up and went to his bedroom, according to the sheriff’s office.

The boy, with a gunshot wound to his head, was found in his bedroom by his father who went to investigate after he heard a “pop” sound. Upon finding the boy, the parents called 911 and the boy was flown to Bayfront Hospital in St. Petersburg. He remains at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital for treatment.

The boy is home-schooled and was home with his parents at the time of the shooting.

Morie said there were multiple firearms in the home. The one the boy had was in his room.

But the boy’s access to the weapon was not the only concern for investigators.

“Anytime there’s narcotics in the house, whether you’re dealing it or whether there’s large amounts, there’s always a certain level of danger associated with that,” Morie said.

Suleiman, Haitha_fitted.jpeg
Manatee County Sheriff's Office

The spice, Crawford said during Suleiman’s hearing, was found in the garage.

Suleiman’s attorneys said they will plead not guilty to the charges. Their client, Britt said, has cooperated with investigators.

Charges are also pending for the 12-year-old’s mother, according to the sheriff’s office. Morie said they plan to charge the mother with culpable negligence.

Morie said the parents have expressed remorse over the incident.

“From all indications, they are very caring parents. They care a lot about their son,” Morie said.

“He is extremely upset,” Britt said of Suleiman. “They’re there at the hospital every day, all day long.”

Multiple investigations were opened after the incident, including one by the Crimes Against Children unit and another by the Narcotics division. The sheriff’s office Child Protection Investigation Division handles all child welfare cases in Manatee County for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Those investigations are ongoing.

Morie said to keep children safe in homes with firearms, to keep a gun lock on the gun, keep the guns out of reach of children and teach older children about gun safety.

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Sara Nealeigh covers what’s happening in the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto, Florida for the Bradenton Herald. She previously covered breaking news for the Herald after moving to Florida from Ohio in 2016.