The father-in-law of a woman accidentally shot dead with her own gun by her two-year-old son has said she was “not the least bit irresponsible”.
He said nuclear scientist Veronica Rutledge, 29, had stored the weapon in a special compartment in her bag, which was unzipped by the toddler in a Wal-Mart store in Hayden, Idaho, a rural town of about 12,000 people north east of Spokane, Washington, on Tuesday.
The 9mm semi-automatic handgun discharged once and the bullet struck Mrs Rutledge in the head, killing her instantly.
Her father-in-law Terry Rutledge told The Spokesman-Review that her son unzipped the gun compartment of her bag while she was looking at clothing during a shopping trip with with the boy and three nieces.
Criticising people using the incident to attack his daughter-in-law, Mr Rutledge said his daughter-in-law did not put the weapon “loosely into her purse”.
“She was not the least bit irresponsible,” he said. He said Mrs Rutledge had a concealed weapons permit, as did her husband Colt, and guns were a big part of her life.
He said she and her husband, who bought the gun compartment bag as a Christmas present for her, practised at shooting ranges.
Terry Rutledge said his daughter-in-law “was a beautiful, young, loving mother”. “She was taken much too soon,” he added.
About 7% of adults in Idaho had concealed weapons permits at the end of 2012, according to the Crime Prevention Research Centre in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. That ranked Idaho among the top third of states.
Kootenai County, which has about 140,000 residents, has issued close to 16,000 concealed weapons permits, sheriff’s spokesman Stu Miller said.
“It’s very commonplace in northern Idaho for folks to have a concealed weapons permit,” he said, adding that most businesses did not prohibit firearms.
Mrs Rutledge lived in Blackfoot, south-eastern Idaho, and her family had come to the Hayden area to visit relatives for Christmas.
She worked for the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, where she was a nuclear scientist. The laboratory supports the US Department of Energy in nuclear and energy research and national defence.
She had taken the children to Wal-Mart to spend their Christmas gift cards, family members said. Her son, her only child, was sitting in a shopping trolley.
Police responding to the incident found Mrs Rutledge dead in the electronics section of the store.
Mr Rutledge, 32, arrived shortly after the shooting, which happened at about 10.20am. The children were taken to a relative’s house.
Police viewed surveillance video provided by the store to determine what happened, Mr Miller said.