BURKESVILLE, Ky. — A 5-year-old boy accidentally shot his 2-year-old sister to death in rural southern Kentucky with a rifle he had received as a gift last year, authorities said.
The children's mother was home at the time of the shooting Tuesday afternoon but had stepped out to the front porch for a few minutes and "she heard the gun go off," Cumberland County Coroner Gary White said. He said the rifle was kept in a corner and the family didn't realize a bullet was left inside it.
White told the Lexington Herald-Leader the boy received the .22-caliber rifle as a gift.
"It's a Crickett," White said, referring to a company that specifically makes guns, clothes and books for children. "It's a little rifle for a kid. ... The little boy's used to shooting the little gun."
The shooting, while accidental, highlights a cultural divide in the gun debate. While many suburban and urban areas work to keep guns out of the hands of children, it's not uncommon for youths in rural areas to own guns for target practice and hunting.
"Down in Kentucky where we're from, you know, guns are passed down from generation to generation. You start at a young age with guns for hunting and everything," White said Wednesday. What is more unusual than a child having a gun, he said, is "that a kid would get shot with it."
"Accidents happen with guns. They thought the gun was actually unloaded, and it wasn't," the coroner said.
White said the girl died of a single gunshot wound to the chest area.
In a brief news release, state police said the shooting occurred when the boy was "playing" with the rifle, but did not elaborate. It is not clear whether any charges will be filed, said Kentucky State Police spokesman Trooper Billy Gregory.
"I think it's too early to say whether there will or won't be," Gregory said.
The AP is not identifying the children because of their ages.
The company that made the gun, Milton, Pa.-based Keystone Sporting Arms, produced 60,000 Crickett and Chipmunk rifles in 2008, according to its website. It also makes guns for adults, but most of its products are geared toward children. The smaller guns come in all sorts of colors, including blue and pink.
The company's slogan is "my first rifle" and its website has a "Kids Corner" section where pictures of young boys and girls are displayed, most of them showing the children at shooting ranges and on bird and deer hunts. The smaller rifles are sold with a mount to use at a shooting range.
"The goal of KSA is to instill gun safety in the minds of youth shooters and encourage them to gain the knowledge and respect that hunting and shooting activities require and deserve," the website said.
No one at the company answered the phone Wednesday.
According to its website, Bill McNeal and his son Steve McNeal decided to make guns for young shooters in the mid-1990s and opened Keystone in 1996 with just four employees, producing 4,000 rifles that year. It now employs about 70 people.
Burkesville sits amid rolling hills near the Tennessee-Kentucky state line along the Cumberland River, in the Appalachia region. The small city is about 90 miles northeast of Nashville, Tenn.
It is home to a Mennonite community that gained attention in 2010 when nine of its members were killed in a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer.