HAYDEN, Idaho (AP) — A shopping trip to a Wal-Mart in the turned tragic when a 2-year-old boy reached into his mother’s purse, grabbed her concealed gun and accidentally killed the woman, authorities said.
Veronica J. Rutledge, 29, who was described as a loving mother, was shopping Tuesday with her son and three other children when the young boy grabbed the small-caliber handgun, which discharged one time, Kootenai County sheriff’s spokesman Stu Miller said. Miller said the boy had been left in a shopping cart.
Responding deputies found Rutledge dead in the Wal-Mart in Hayden, a politically conservative town of about 9,000 people in the western state of Idaho.
“It appears to be a pretty tragic accident,” Miller said.
The victim’s father-in-law, Terry Rutledge, told The Associated Press that Veronica Rutledge “was a beautiful, young, loving mother.”
“She was not the least bit irresponsible,” Terry Rutledge said. “She was taken much too soon.”
The woman’s husband arrived to the store shortly after the shooting around 10:20 a.m. Tuesday, Miller said. All the children were taken to a relative’s house.
Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, said in a statement that the shooting was a “very sad and tragic accident.” The Hayden store closed for the rest of the day.
There do not appear to be reliable national statistics about the number of accidental fatalities involving children handling guns.
In neighboring Washington state, a 3-year-old boy was seriously injured in November when he accidentally shot himself in the face in a home.
Rutledge was an employee of the Idaho National Laboratory, The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, reported. The Idaho Falls laboratory supports the U.S. Department of Energy in nuclear and energy research and national defense.
Idaho National Laboratory senior chemical engineer Vince Maio worked with Rutledge on a research paper about using glass ceramic to store nuclear waste, The Spokesman-Review reported.
Maio said he was immediately impressed with her.
“She had a lot of maturity for her age,” he told the newspaper. “Her work was impeccable. She found new ways to do things that we did before and she found ways to do them better.”
Idaho lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year allowing concealed weapons on the state’s public college and university campuses.
Despite facing opposition from all eight of the state’s university college presidents, lawmakers sided with gun rights advocates who said the law would better uphold the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees the right of citizens to bear arms.
Under the law, gun holders are barred from bringing their weapons into dormitories or buildings that hold more than 1,000 people, such as stadiums or concert halls.