LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A 5-year-old boy who shot and killed his 2-year-old sister Tuesday near Burkesville, Ky., used a special, child-sized rifle he got in November for his birthday.
The fatal shell was fired from a Crickett - "a rifle for a little kid," said Cumberland County Coroner Gary White.
Caroline Sparks, 2, was shot in the chest Tuesday afternoon and pronounced dead at Cumberland County Hospital, White said. He said her brother was used to shooting the rifle and was playing with it when it went off.
The .22-caliber weapon is marketed as "My First Rifle" by Milton, Pa.-based Keystone Sporting Arms LLC, and comes in colors including blue and pink.
On its website, the company offers a "Kids Corner" with pictures of young boys and girls, and testimonials from parents, including one who says the rifles are "just the right size for my 5- and 7-year-olds. They are awesome and we couldn't be happier."
The company, which was founded in 1996, says on its website that it sold 60,000 rifles - including the Crickett and the "Chipmunk" - in 2008, the last year for which it lists figures.
Owner and President Bill McNeal did not respond to requests for comment but he has said that the company believes in firearms safety "and getting youth started with the right equipment to ensure the best experience."
White described the Cumberland shooting as "just one of those crazy accidents" and said the parents had left the rifle in a corner next to the boy's BB gun and didn't realize that it still had a shell in it.
He said the rifle had a lock designed to keep a child from loading additional shells but not from being fired.
White said the children's parents - Chris Sparks and Stephanie Robinson - were devastated. Asked about the 5-year-old, White said he didn't believe he fully understood yet what had happened.
Kentucky State Police Trooper Billy Gregory, a spokesman for Post 15 at Columbia, said police were investigating and would present their findings to Commonwealth's Attorney Jesse Stockton Jr.
Stockton, who then would decide whether to present the case to a grand jury, said in an interview Wednesday that he hadn't been briefed yet on the case and wouldn't comment on it out of respect for the parents.
"They have gone through the worst thing a parent could go through," he said.
Gregory said Robinson was home, cleaning, at the time of the shooting, and said she had stepped out to empty a mop bucket when she heard a pop.
Gregory said he had received "angry calls" from around the state suggesting that the parents should be prosecuted.
In an interview, 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.
The pediatricians' group says on its website that the safest home for a child is one without guns, and that if a family keeps guns, they should be stored locked and unloaded.
The National Rifle Association didn't respond to a request for comment.
But 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."
"These are good people, a normal, average Kentucky family who loved their children very much," Phelps said.
Kathy Mosby, who runs Shapes Fitness Center in Burkesville, said the "whole community is behind the family," while Terry Riley, general manager of Don Franklin Auto, a car dealer, said, what happened "can happen to any of us."
Stephanie Robinson is a homemaker, and Sparks shoes horses and worked with the American Farriers Association disaster relief effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Andrew Wolfson, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal