MIAMI COUNTY — Hanna Cox’s parents describe their daughter as a “free spirit” who loved animals, the beach, and to be outside in nature.
“From the time she could speak, she would be in the hallway talking to an ant,” her mother Mindi McKee said. “She was just a lover of animals, and it didn’t matter what it was.”
For the first time, the parents of the Maconaquah High School senior are speaking out about losing their daughter at the age of 18.
Hanna’s mother Mindi McKee and father Robert Cox sat down with WRTV Investigates.
“I feel like it was an accident,” Mindi said. “I feel it was a little negligent.”
Hanna died on Feb. 24 after she was shot in a neighborhood near Grissom Air Reserve Base.
Hanna’s boyfriend, Jeremiah Smith is charged with three felonies in connection with Hanna’s death— involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide and pointing a firearm, according to online court records.
Smith said he removed the magazine and thought the gun was unloaded, according to the affidavit. But when he pointed the gun at Hanna, said "it didn't work" and pulled the trigger, he fatally shot her.
Hanna’s dad, Robert Cox, has been in law enforcement for 17 years and has taken Hanna shooting since she was little.
“Hanna had a knowledge of how firearms worked,” Mindi said. “Her dad took her to a shooting range, showed her how to disassemble, put safety on, take safety off.”
Mindi said she was unaware Hanna’s boyfriend had access to a gun.
On Feb. 24, Mindi was Face Timing with Hanna and her boyfriend Jeremiah Smith, who was well known to Hanna’s family.
“Every time he’d come to my house, he’d shake my hand,” Robert said.
“They were joking and laughing,” Mindi said. “They were coming here for dinner."
Mindi said she was talking to Hanna about her laundry just before the shooting.
“Her boyfriend was like ‘Awe your mommy still does your laundry’, and they were joking back and forth,” Mindi said. “We said ‘I love you’ when we hung up."
Shortly after, Mindi and Robert both got separate phone calls that Hanna had been shot.
Confused, they both raced to the scene.
“They wouldn't tell me right away what happened or how she was, and I said, ‘Just tell me,’” Mindi said. “I just fell to the ground, and I couldn't say anything. It's like part of me left at that moment. Just physically I couldn't walk."
Robert said his background in law enforcement kicked in when he arrived.
“I knew when they said the ambulance didn't leave,” Robert said. “They said the ambulance was still there so I knew. Ambulances don't stay at the scene."
As a police officer, Robert has had to make notification to families who’ve lost loved ones.
“When the tables are turned, it’s just really hard,” Robert said.
Robert and Mindi said they are waiting for all the facts to come out in the criminal case against Jeremiah, but both feel the shooting was accidental.
“Absolutely I feel like it was an accident,” Mindi said. “It’s from a lack of experience and knowledge and it could have been prevented if that training and knowledge was there for everyone "
Both Mindi and Robert plan to work with state lawmakers and schools to increase education for young people about the proper handling of firearms.
“I am one of the most pro-gun-owning people there is,” Robert said. “I've always supported responsible gun ownership. That's one of the things with the younger culture, is they think they can just watch TV and then get a firearm and carry it. There needs to be training other than tv shows. There's not a lot out there."
Guns are the leading cause of death among children and teens in Indiana, killing 110 young people a year, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. 31% of the deaths are suicides and 63% are homicides.
Hanna’s cause of death was ruled a homicide, with the manner of death determined to be a gunshot wound to the chest.
Where Hanna’s life ended on Capehart Street sits a memorial with trinkets and memories left by friends and family.
“She just had a true heart,” Mindi said. “She gave to all her friends and family and she didn’t want anyone to go without.”
Hanna always wanted to take a motorcycle ride on Route 66, and her gravesite with Route 66 memorabilia.
Robert still plans to make Hanna’s dream a reality this summer with her closest friends.
“We still plan to do the trip on Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica and come back,” Robert said. “We're definitely going to still do that in her honor."
Robert and Mindi are taking it day by day and surround themselves with memories of Hanna—including picture boards made by friends and the hairless rat Hanna left behind.
They take solace in the fact that Hanna lived life to the fullest every day.
“Hanna always gave people a smile and a happy moment to live on with,” Mindi said.
Robert, an officer with the Jonesboro Police Department in Grant County, hopes to use his experience with losing Hanna to help other families through his work in law enforcement.
“In the future, I think I would volunteer at this point to notify someone,” Robert said. “I think I can share some emotion with them on what they’re going through. When the situation arises, I’m going to try to help with that service.”
Jeremiah has requested a public defender and is due in court on April 28.
WRTV reached out to him for a statement, and we are still waiting to hear back.