Gwinnett County

Friend 'can't explain' gun range accident that killed 24-year-old

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — The best friend of a metro Atlanta woman who died in a gun range accident says she can’t explain what happened that day.

Mattie Smith was with her friend Sarah Bonner, 24, at the Skip J Gun Range in Anderson, South Carolina, on Wednesday when a bullet from someone's gun hit Bonner in the head. Doctors took her off life support three days later. The coroner ruled her death an accident.

“You just want to wake up and think this is just a dream. It’s a nightmare, it’s not real,” Smith said.

Bonner, who is from Lawrenceville, was visiting family and friends for the holidays when she and Smith decided to go to the gun range.

No one seems to know how the freak accident happened.

“I don’t think we need to point fingers or anything of that sort. I was standing right there and I can’t even explain it,” Smith told Channel 2’s Matt Johnson.

Bonner was studying radiology at Gwinnett Technical College. Her friends say she was an incredible person who lived her life with so much purpose.

“Everywhere she went, that smile went with her. She didn’t stay mad at anything for long at all,” Smith said.


As friends and family try to deal with the unimaginable tragedy, Smith says Bonner’s mother is the one holding everyone together, even as she battles breast cancer.

“She is battling breast cancer right now and I know that Sarah was her reason for her fight,” Smith said.

Bonner’s mother has dealt with death in the family before, when she lost another daughter and Bonner’s father.

“As easy as it is to get upset with God or question him, she has kept the faith and that is something that is out of his world,” Smith said. “I want people to look at her mom and look at everything she’s gone through and see how strong she is. If she can do it, anyone can.”

Smith says they’ve received support from all over the country.

Friends are now raising money to set up a scholarship for radiology students at GTC in Bonner’s name.

“Sarah’s life was such a light and just because she’s not here physically that light has still got to shine on,” Smith said.

South Carolina authorities say the investigation into Bonner’s death is still active as they try to figure out where the bullet came from.

Smith says Bonner recently became an organ donor, and because of that decision she has continued to help others even in her death.

“She was like, ‘If I could just help somebody, I wouldn’t want them to be hooked up or things like that if I knew it wasn’t going to benefit me,’” Smith said.

Loved ones are planning a celebration of life Thursday evening at the Snellville campus of 12 Stone Church.