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Four escape injury after gunshots ring out in rural Rutherford County

CHRISTIANA, TN (WSMV) -

It's not uncommon to hear gunshots in parts of rural Rutherford County, but some residents in Christiana say bullets from someone shooting target practice came awfully close, even hitting a nearby home.

Four people in the area escaped injury, including college student Hailey McWhorter, who was taking her neighbor's mail next door when the family's horses started going wild.

"They looked like they were going to jump over the fence, and I said, 'Whoa,'" McWhorter said.

She said bullets then came whizzing by.

"It just went flying over my head, so I just ducked down," she said. "I didn't know what else to do because if they start shooting, I was like, 'I might get shot.'"

One bullet struck a double-wide mobile home on Wayside Road and penetrated the bathroom wall, landing in a tub often used by a six-year-old girl.

"If my renter's daughter had been in the bathtub, it would have killed her," Jeffrey McWhorter said.

Rutherford County Sheriff's deputies were called to investigate. They believe the gunshots were coming from a farm on Sledge Road in Christiana about 650 yards away.

Two people, Michelle Baker and Troy Barrett, were cutting trees nearby and also reported bullets flying over their heads.

The area where the target practice was taking place is surrounded by a thicket of trees, huge rock and an old trailer.

James Phillips, the man accused of shooting, said there is no way a bullet from the gun he was shooting could travel so far.

"I was shooting into the pit at a downward position. There is no way a 9mm could go through that big ole thicket, through that thicket and hit someone's home," Phillips said.

Phillips said he collects guns and is a registered permit holder. He does security work and said he is a bounty hunter.

There were four other men with him Wednesday who officials said are convicted felons. Phillips said he was the only one target shooting.

"Just about every time I go out here, the police get called," Phillips said. "But there is shooting out here all the time, but when it comes from this farm, it's a problem."

Police took several 9mm pistols into evidence plus 600 rounds of ammunition.

Jeffrey McWhorter owns the mobile home that was hit and rents it to out to a family. He said his house next door has also been hit by a bullet before.

"I understand a hunter, but when you have high-powered, semi-automatic rifles, along with several 9mm guns, you have to have a proper area to shoot them in and not in a residential area," he said.

Reckless endangerment would be the offense for shooting into an occupied dwelling, but neither Phillips nor any of the men with him was charged. Officials say the investigation is ongoing.

Phillips said he has animals, including dozens of cattle on the farm, and he wouldn't be so irresponsible to shoot blindly and potentially hurt them or someone else's property.

Deputies said it is legal for people to shoot in unincorporated areas of Rutherford County, but say folks should use caution.

Sheriff Robert Arnold said people who shoot should observe these basic safety rules:

•    Treat every firearm as if it was loaded at all times.
•    Never point a weapon at anything you're not willing to see destroyed.
•    Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
•    Be aware of your target, including what lies before you and beyond.
•    Make sure you have a backstop that will stop the round.

Copyright 2014 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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