‘Beautiful’ mother shot by toddler son in Wal-Mart tragedy

People stand inside a Walmart in Hayden, Idaho, Dec 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Coeur d'Alene Press, Tess Freeman)
People stand inside a Walmart in Hayden, Idaho, Dec 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Coeur d'Alene Press, Tess Freeman)

A 29-year-old woman shot dead by her two-year-old son at a supermarket in northern Idaho has been described as a “beautiful, young, loving mother”.

The little boy reached into Veronica J Rutledge’s handbag in the Wal-Mart store and her concealed gun fired in what authorities called a tragic accident.

Kootenai County sheriff’s spokesman Stu Miller said Ms Rutledge was from Blackfoot in south-eastern Idaho, and her family were in the area to visit relatives. She had been shopping with her son and three other children, Mr Miller said.

She was an employee of the Idaho National Laboratory, the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, reported.

The Idaho Falls laboratory supports the US Department of Energy in nuclear and energy research and national defence.

The woman had a concealed weapons permit. Mr Miller said the young boy was left in a shopping trolley, reached into his mother’s handbag and grabbed a small-calibre handgun, which discharged once.

Deputies who responded to the Wal-Mart incident found Ms Rutledge dead, the sheriff’s office said.

“It appears to be a pretty tragic accident,” Mr Miller said.

The victim’s father-in-law, Terry Rutledge, told the Associated Press that Ms Rutledge “was a beautiful, young, loving mother”.

“She was not the least bit irresponsible,” Mr Rutledge said. “She was taken much too soon.”

The woman’s husband was not in the store when the shooting happened. Mr Miller said the man arrived shortly after the shooting.

All the children were taken to a relative’s house.

The shooting happened in the Wal-Mart store in Hayden, Idaho. The supermarket closed for the rest of the day.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said in a statement that the shooting was a “very sad and tragic accident”.

“We are working closely with the local sheriff’s department while they investigate what happened,” she said.

In neighbouring Washington state, a three-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 two-year-old boy apparently shot and killed his 11-year-old sister while they 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.