CLINTON, NC (WWAY) -- An eight-year-old boy died Friday after a hunting accident in Bladen County. Family and friends gathered in Clinton for James Ethan Bartley's funeral today. Meanwhile, his friends at school mourned their classmate.
"He felt like a brother to me," friend and classmate Taleb Thompson said. "He felt like a brother to me, because we always played football and soccer."
An empty desk in Mrs. Wells's homeroom class served as a reminder of the loss Butler Avenue School suffered over the long holiday weekend.
Bartley died Friday while hunting with two other boys off Soup Haire Road near Elizabethtown. One of the boys dropped a .22-caliber rifle, which went off and shot Bartley in the side. He was airlifted to Chapel Hill, where he later died.
"It has been an unfortunate tragedy for all of us," principal Vanessa Brown said. "On Wednesday you tell the students, you know, they're going to have a holiday and for them to have a safe holiday, and that you'll see them on Monday. Then to have something of this magnitude to happen before you could even get back on Monday... One thing I can say about Ethan is that he was a student that always had a smile on his face. The children loved him. The staff loved him. Everyone loved him."
As his family grieves, so does his elementary school. Students and teachers at Butler Avenue School wore green ribbons today in honor of Bartley. With the memories fresh in their minds, emotions were high.
"He's going to be greatly missed," teacher Karen Randleman said. "He was a true asset to both of our classes, and he is going to be very much missed by faculty, staff, as well as all of his friends and peers in his classroom."
Bartley's family did not want to talk Monday, and his friends at school understand why.
"I really am sorry for his family's loss," Thompson said.
The Bladen County Sheriff's Office says the accident is still under investigation. The Bladen County Department of Social Services and North Carolina Wildlife officers are also investigating.