A 5-year-old girl from the Southwest Alaska community of Mountain Village was shot and killed by her 8-year-old brother on Monday, Alaska State Troopers reported. The two young children had been left home alone when the shooting took place, troopers said.
Few details were available Tuesday, but the 8-year-old was reportedly playing with a .22-caliber Ruger rifle when the weapon discharged, fatally shooting his sister at about 2:20 p.m. Monday. It was not immediately clear if the shooting was accidental or intentional, and the girl's body was sent to the State Medical Examiner's office in Anchorage for an autopsy. The boy was familiar with the weapon and had used it the previous day to go hunting, according to Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters.
Peters added it was too early to say if the parents of the slain girl would face any potential charges related to leaving the children unattended for the "short period" in which the shooting took place. "It all depends on the facts of the case," and what the investigation reveals, she said.
Stacey Wilson, the instructional leader at the Ignatius Beans Memorial School in Mountain Village -- in which the 8-year-old is enrolled -- said that it had been a "pretty normal" day at the school Tuesday, despite the bad news that spread quickly through the community of about 800 people on the Yukon River. The news came too late in the day Monday to disrupt classes, she said, and the school had opened normally on Tuesday. Meanwhile, additional counseling resources were being made available by the Asa'carsarmiut Tribal Council in Mountain Village.
"They have additional resources, and they've called in behavioral health technicians from Bethel," Wilson said. "They've made those resources available, not through the school, but to everyone."
Alaska, despite a low rate of intentional homicides committed with firearms, was the highest in the nation for overall firearm deaths per-capita in 2008, according to one study, coming in at more than 20 deaths by gun for every 100,000 people in the Last Frontier. There are, on average, about 1.5 guns per household in Alaska.
Peters advised parents to take the opportunity to discuss safety with their children, making sure that they know the dangers of anything in the house, especially for those brief times when children could be unsupervised.
"Talk to your children about potential dangers in your home, whether it's using a stove or handling a weapon -- when it's appropriate, or if it's appropriate," Peters said. "When it comes to safety in the home, the more you can talk to your kids about these things, the better."
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com