HOLLYWOOD -- The death of Mary Tyler Moore's only child, who shot himself in the head while 'fiddling around' with a sawed-off shotgun, was the second tragic death in her family in two years.
A coroner ruled Miss Moore's sister, Elizabeth Ann, 21, committed suicide in 1978 by a drug overdose, although the actress contends her sister did not kill herself.
Miss Moore's estranged second husband, TV producer Grant Tinker, who informed her of her son's death, said 'the news absolutely destroyed Mary.' The 43-year-old actress was unavailable for comment.
Ironically, Miss Moore recently won rave reviews for her portrayal in the film 'Ordinary People' of a mother who loses one son in an accident and almost loses the other in a suicide attempt.
Richard Carlton Meeker Jr., 24, her son by her first marriage, somehow triggered his own shotgun Tuesday night while talking to one of his two female roommates in the living room of his rented home near the University of Southern California campus.
He was rushed to Western Park Hospital but died of a shotgun blast to the face shortly before midnight. Results of a coroner's autopsy were expected sometime today.
Miss Moore, who was told Wednesday of her son's death, immediately flew to Los Angeles from New York.
'I waited a couple of hours so the shock wouldn't come in the middle of the night,' said Tinker, who was separated from the actress early this year following a 16-year marriage. 'Calling Mary was the most difficult thing I ever had to do.'
Judy Vasquez, 21, Meeker's roommate who witnessed the shooting, said he was 'loading and unloading' the weapon, described by police as a short-barreled .410 gauge.
Prior to the shooting, Meeker had made several phone calls, including one to his girlfriend in Fresno, about 210 miles north of Los Angeles. But Miss McLaughlin said he was 'very up' and his mood never darkened.
'He was listening to music in the living room,' she said. 'He was very up about his job and people in general.
'He was just fiddling around with the gun. I don't think he was paying atention to what he was doing.'
Meeker worked as a messenger at CBS-TV and a superior said he was a normal, well-adjusted young man, adding, 'Nobody will ever make me believe his death was anything but an accident.'
Miss McLaughlin said Miss Vasquez had returned home about 10:40 p.m. and she heard them talking in the living room. Then she heard the shot.
'Judy screamed and I ran out,' Miss McLaughlin said. 'She was flying out the door. She screamed that Richard had been shot.
'At first I thought someone else had shot Richard. I ran to the neighbors next door and Judy ran across the street. Both neighbors called for an ambulance.'
Miss Moore, 43, has won six television Emmy awards, the first two as the wife Laura in the 'Dick Van Dyke Show' and four as Mary Richards in 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show.'