The heartbreaking death of a 2-year-old Kentucky girl who was shot and killed Tuesday by her 5-year-old brother with a rifle he had been given as a gift might lead to criminal charges.
The Lexington Herald-Leader writes that "Kentucky State Police said Wednesday it is too early to say whether charges will be filed in the case of a 5-year-old boy who accidentally shot and killed his 2-year-old sister."
That was a shift from earlier in the day, when a spokesman for the state police had said it was unlikely any charges would be filed.
"There is still some information that we don't fully understand," Trooper Billy Gregory later said, according to the newspaper. "As the investigation continues and when we finish, I'm sure we'll present the totality of the circumstances to the commonwealth's attorney and then he'll make a decision whether or not to present to the grand jury."
Just what type of charges might be filed is not known at this time.
The Associated Press recounts what happened in Burkesville, Ky., this way:
"As Stephanie Sparks cleaned the kitchen, her 5-year-old son, Kristian, began playing with a rifle he was given last year. She stepped out onto the front porch, poured grease out of a frying pan for the dogs and 'heard the gun go off,' a Kentucky coroner said.
"Authorities [including County Coroner Gary White] said the boy had fatally shot his 2-year-old sister, Caroline, in the chest. ...
"Kristian's rifle was kept in a corner of the mobile home, and the family didn't realize a bullet had been left in it, Cumberland County Coroner Gary White said. 'Down in Kentucky where we're from, you know, guns are passed down from generation to generation,' White said. 'You start at a young age with guns for hunting and everything.' ... What is more unusual than a child having a gun, he said, is 'that a kid would get shot with it.' "
According to the Herald-Leader and the AP, Kristian's gun was a Crickett rifle manufactured by Keystone Sporting Arms of Pennsylvania and marketed as "my first rifle."
The Louisville Courier-Journal adds that "Dr. Denise Dowd, an emergency room pediatrician at Children's Mercy Hospitals in Kansas City who co-wrote the American Academy of Pediatricians policy on children and guns, said she was 'blown away' that anyone would give a rifle to a 5-year-old. 'We don't give our kids the keys to our car, and there is a good reason for it,' she said."
But, the newspaper writes, "community and business leaders in Burkesville said they strongly support the couple and saw nothing unusual about giving a rifle to such a young child. 'Learning how to use a gun at a young age has been common for generations in rural Kentucky,' said County Judge-Executive John A. Phelps Jr. He said it was a 'mistake' to let the boy have access to the rifle, 'but it was an accident.' "
In its initial statement about the incident, the state police also said the boy "accidentally shot his 2-year-old sister."