BURKESVILLE, Ky. – In southern Kentucky, where children get their first guns even before they start first grade, Stephanie Sparks paid little attention as her 5-year-old son, Kristian, played with the rifle he was given last year. Then, as she stepped onto the front porch while cleaning the kitchen, she heard the gun go off, a coroner said.
In a horrific accident Tuesday that shocked a rural area far removed from the national debate over gun control, the boy had killed his 2-year-old sister, Caroline, with a single shot to the chest.
Down in Kentucky where we’re from, you know, guns are passed down from generation to generation, Cumberland County Coroner Gary 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.
In this case, the rifle was made by a company that sells guns specifically for children – My first rifle is the slogan – in colors ranging from plain brown to hot pink to orange to royal blue to multicolor swirls.
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.
It’s a normal way of life, and it’s not just rural Kentucky, it’s rural America – hunting and shooting and sport fishing. It starts at an early age, said Cumberland County Judge Executive John Phelps. There’s probably not a household in this county that doesn’t have a gun.
In Cumberland County, as elsewhere in Kentucky, local newspapers feature photos of children proudly displaying their kills, including turkey and deer.
The whole town is heartbroken, Phelps said of Burkesville, a farming community of 1,800 about 90 miles northeast of Nashville, Tenn. This was a total shock. This was totally unexpected.
Phelps said he knew the family well. He said the father, Chris Sparks, works as a logger at a mill and also shoes horses.
The family lives in a gray mobile home on a long, winding road, surrounded by rolling hills and farmland that’s been in the family since the 1930s. Toys, including a small truck and a basketball goal, were on the front porch, but no one was home Wednesday.
There’s a house across the street, but the next closest neighbor lives over a hill.
White said the shooting had been ruled accidental, though a police spokesman said it was unclear whether any charges will be filed.
White said the boy received the .22-caliber rifle as a gift, but it wasn’t clear who gave him the gun, which is known as a Crickett.
The company that makes the rifle, Milton, Pa.-based Keystone Sporting Arms, has a Kids Corner on its website. It says the company produced 60,000 Crickett and Chipmunk rifles in 2008.