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Mother shot dead by two-year-old

A 29-year-old woman described as a "beautiful, young, loving mother" was shot dead by her two-year-old son at a supermarket in northern Idaho in what authorities called a tragic accident.

The little boy reached into Veronica J Rutledge's handbag in the Wal-Mart store and her concealed gun fired, 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, a town about 40 miles (64km) north-east of Spokane. 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.

Idaho National Laboratory senior chemical engineer Vince Maio worked with Ms Rutledge on a research paper about using glass ceramic to store nuclear waste, the Spokesman-Review said.

Mr Maio said he was immediately impressed with her.

"She had a lot of maturity for her age," he told the newspaper. "Her work was impeccable. She found new ways to do things that we did before and she found ways to do them better."

"She was a beautiful person," he added.

There do not appear to be reliable national statistics about the number of accidental fatalities involving children handling guns.

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 (50km) north of Seattle.

In April, a two-year-old boy apparently shot and killed his 11-year-old sister while they and their siblings 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.

Hayden is a politically conservative town of about 9,000 people just north of Coeur d'Alene, in Idaho's northern panhandle.

Idaho politicians passed legislation earlier this year allowing concealed weapons on the state's public college and university campuses.

Despite facing opposition from all eight of the state's university college presidents, politicians sided with gun rights advocates who said the law would better uphold the Second Amendment of the US Constitution guaranteeing the right to bear arms.

Under the law, gun holders are barred from bringing their weapons into dormitories or buildings that hold more than 1,000 people, such as stadiums or concert halls.

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