An Idaho nuclear research scientist who had taken her young relatives to Walmart to spend their holiday gift cards was killed Tuesday when her 2-year-old son pulled a loaded pistol from her purse and shot her.
Deputies who responded found Veronica Rutledge, 29, dead in the Hayden store's electronics department in what Kootenai County sheriff's spokesman Stu Miller described as a "tragic accident." Rutledge, who worked at the Idaho National Laboratory, was from Blackfoot in southeastern Idaho, and her family had come to the area to visit relatives.
Rutledge had a concealed weapons permit. Miller said the young boy was left in a shopping cart, reached into his mother's purse and grabbed a small-caliber handgun, which discharged once.
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."
Miller said Rutledge's husband arrived shortly after the shooting. All the children were taken to a relative's house.
The store was closed so that detectives could interview witnesses and was not scheduled to reopen until Wednesday morning.
Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said in a statement the shooting was a "very sad and tragic accident."
"We are working closely with the local sheriff's department while they investigate what happened," Buchanan said.
Idaho law allows concealed weapons in most public places except courthouses, prisons, K-12 schools and juvenile detention facilities. Wal-Mart spokesman Aaron Mullins told the Spokesman-Review newspaper that the company's policy on carrying guns into stores is to defer to state and local laws pertaining to carrying firearms in public.
Hayden is a town of about 9,000 people just north of Coeur d'Alene and approximately 40 miles north of Spokane, Wash. in Idaho's northern panhandle.
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 in Lake Stevens, about 30 miles north of Seattle.
In April, a 2-year-old boy apparently shot and killed his 11-year-old sister while they and their siblings played with a gun inside a Philadelphia home. Authorities said the gun was believed to have been brought into the home by the mother's boyfriend.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.