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A Mills man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a charge alleging he shot a child, who later had to undergo surgery, with a BB gun.

John A. Thellman entered his plea to a single count of child abuse with four words:

“Not guilty, your honor.”

During the brief hearing in Natrona County District Court, Thellman only otherwise spoke to answer procedural questions.

Prosecutors say that the child, who was younger than 5 years old at the time of the incident and is related to Thellman, was entering a trailer in Mills on Aug. 21 when Thellman shot her twice with the BB gun. She was later taken to Mountain View Regional Hospital and two BBs were removed from her chest and face, according to court documents filed by prosecutors.

In an interview with an investigator conducted at the Children’s Advocacy Project, the girl said Thellman shot her “because I opened the door and he was mad,” documents state.

Thellman told a Mills police officer that he had fired the BB gun but attributed the injuries to a freak accident, according to the documents. He said he had been firing the gun at the door when the girl unexpectedly walked through it. Thellman also told police the gun had discharged two BBs with one pull of the trigger.

Thellman threw away the BB gun following the incident, the documents state he told police.

A neighbor told police that he has heard Thellman yelling at the girl and threatening her. The girl and her sister would frequently leave the trailer because of Thellman, the neighbor said.

Thellman remained free on a $2,500 surety bond Tuesday morning.

Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson

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Crime and Courts Reporter

Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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