LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The accidental fatal shooting of a US woman by her own two-year-old son at a Walmart store has left her family devastated and again raised questions about gun safety in America.
Veronica Rutledge was out shopping with her son and three nieces Tuesday in Hayden, Idaho when the child unzipped her handbag – specially designed to carry a concealed weapon – and the gun went off.
The 29-year-old nuclear research scientist, who held a concealed-carry permit, got the bag last week as a Christmas gift from her husband Colt Rutledge, with whom she shared a passion for guns.
“An inquisitive two-year-old boy reached into the purse, unzipped the compartment, found the gun and shot his mother in the head,” her father-in-law Terry Rutledge told The Washington Post.
“It’s a terrible, terrible incident.”
He added that his son, the victim’s husband, now is grappling with how to break the news to the youngster, the couple’s only child.
“He has a two-year-old boy right now who doesn’t know where his mom is and he’ll have to explain why his mom isn’t coming home,” Rutledge said.
“And then, later on (in) his life, as he questions it more, he’ll again have to explain what happened, so we’ll have to relive this several times over.”
Veronica Rutledge was a scientist at the Idaho National Laboratory, a federal nuclear research facility in the east of the state, and co-authored a number of published papers.
Staff at the laboratory are “deeply saddened” by her death, a spokeswoman told AFP.
Rutledge and her husband – who married in 2009 – shared a keen interest in guns, spending time at shooting ranges and going out hunting.
Rutledge illustrated her Facebook page with a smiling profile photo of herself and her little boy, alongside a panoramic photo of a rainbow.
Some 30,000 deaths a year in the United States involve firearms. The majority are suicides; many others are murders. But some involve children laying their hands on loaded weapons.
In 2011 alone, 140 children and teenagers died as a result of an unintentional shooting, more often than not inside a home, according to a study from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Several thousand more sustained non-fatal injuries.
Walmart closed its Hayden location – normally open 24 hours a day – after Tuesday’s shooting, which occurred in the electronics department. It reopened Wednesday.
Coincidentally, the retail chain is the biggest gun retailer in the United States, which has seen an uptick in gun-buying in recent years among women looking for greater personal protection.
Fifteen per cent of American women own a gun, according to a Gallup poll analysis.
There has been a corresponding boom in fashionable handbags specially designed to hold a concealed weapon, including one brand called Gun Tote’n Mamas.