HAYDEN, Idaho, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- The mother shot by her son in an Idaho Walmart was carrying her handgun in a purse her husband gave her for Christmas, her family said.
The purse had a special zipped compartment to hold a gun, Veronica Rutledge's father-in-law, Terry Rutledge, told the Washington Post. Rutledge's son, a 2-year-old, was riding in a shopping cart Tuesday when he managed to get hold of the weapon.
"An inquisitive 2-year-old boy reached into the purse, unzipped the compartment, found the gun and shot his mother in the head," Rutledge said. "It's a terrible, terrible incident."
Rutledge, 29, was a nuclear research scientist at the Idaho National Laboratory. She lived in Blackfoot, Idaho, with her husband and son, and the couple traveled to Hayden, Idaho, to visit his family immediately after Christmas.
Both Rutledge and her husband were hunters and target shooters. Rutledge had a concealed weapons permit and was not breaking any laws because Walmart's policy is to follow state and local laws on firearms.
Rutledge's three nieces witnessed the shooting. She was on an expedition to allow the children to use gift cards they received for Christmas, and Terry Rutledge told the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review it was "supposed to be a fun-filled day."
Terry Rutledge insisted his daughter-in-law was a responsible gun owner. He told the Post he is angry at activists who use the shooting to suggest otherwise.
"I brought my son up around guns, and he has extensive experience shooting it," Rutledge said. "And Veronica had had handgun classes; they're both licensed to carry, and this wasn't just some purse she had thrown her gun into."
Lt. Stu Miller of the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office called the death "a tragic accident."
Vince Maio, a senior chemical engineer at the national laboratory, called Rutledge "a beautiful person."
"She had a lot of maturity for her age," he told the Spokesman-Review. "Her work was impeccable. She found new ways to do things that we did before and she found ways to do them better."