Police: 'Too early to know' about charges in death of 2-year-old shot by brother, 5

A 2-year-old girl was shot by her 5-year-old brother with a gun designed for children at this home in Cumberland County. Investigators said the Tuesday shooting was accidental.
A 2-year-old girl was shot by her 5-year-old brother with a gun designed for children at this home in Cumberland County. Investigators said the Tuesday shooting was accidental. AP

Kentucky State Police said Wednesday it is too early to say whether charges will be filed in the case of a 5-year-old boy who accidentally shot and killed his 2-year-old sister.

Trooper Billy Gregory, spokesman for the Columbia post, initially said Wednesday that he didn't anticipate charges.

"We don't see that there was neglect on anyone's part," Gregory said.

Later Wednesday, Gregory said, "It's too early to know."

"I think there is still some information that we don't fully understand," Gregory said. "As the investigation continues and when we finish, I'm sure we'll present the totality of the circumstances to the commonwealth's attorney and then he'll make a decision whether or not to present to the grand jury."

Cumberland County Coroner Gary White said Tuesday that the shooting would be ruled accidental. White told the Associated Press that the girl died of a single gunshot wound to the chest.

Caroline Sparks, 2, was pronounced dead Tuesday at Cumberland County Hospital, where she was taken after the 1 p.m. shooting on Lawson's Bottom Road, White said. Caroline was the daughter of Chris and Stephanie Sparks, according to an online obituary on the website for Norris-New Funeral Home in Burkesville, which is handling arrangements.

The 5-year-old brother was identified as Kristian Sparks in a statement released by Cumberland County Judge-Executive John Phelps Jr.

Phelps told The Associated Press that he knew the family well. He said the father, Chris Sparks, works as a logger at a mill and 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; there's a house across the street, but the next closest neighbor lives over a hill, according to the AP.

Gregory provided a little more detail Wednesday about the shooting.

"The mother was home at the time, cleaning house, and stepped out to empty a mop bucket and heard a pop," Gregory said. "She ran back in and found it had happened."

The gun was a gift to the boy last year, White said. The gun was kept in a corner, and the family did not realize that a shell had been left in it, he said.

The Crickett rifle involved is "not 3 feet long," Gregory said. It is manufactured by Keystone Sporting Arms, a Pennsylvania manufacturer of single-shot firearms, which advertises the Crickett on its website as "my first rifle."

A "Kids Corner" on the site displays photographs of children holding firearms or aiming the guns on shooting ranges. A product display shows .22 rifles in a variety of colors, including blue and pink laminates.

A woman who answered the telephone Wednesday at Keystone Sporting Arms said simply, "There is no comment at this time" on the Kentucky shooting.

An autopsy was to be performed Wednesday in Louisville to determine a preliminary cause of death. State police will not close their investigation for several weeks, when a cause of death is finalized and a death certificate is issued, Gregory said.

Nationwide, there is little data concerning the precise circumstances of unintentional firearm deaths.

In 2009, 114 children and adolescents younger than 20 died as a result of unintentional firearm-related injuries, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 66 unintentional deaths occurred in teens between the ages 15 and 19.

Fatal shootings are usually inflicted by other children, typically friends or siblings.

The shooting reignited commentary online about guns and children days after gun-control measures proposed in the wake of the shootings at Newtown, Conn., failed in the Senate.

Cumberland County is a small rural county of 6,856 people on Kentucky's south-central border with Tennessee. The county seat of Burkesville has 1,521 people. In 2010, Cumberland County was rocked when 10 people of an extended family with ties to the Marrowbone community were killed in a van by an out-of-control tractor-trailer on Interstate 65 in Hart County.

In his statement, Judge-Executive Phelps called the Sparks family "good neighbors and friends of my family."

"Today we mourn with them in this time of the tragic loss of their daughter, Caroline," Phelps said in the statement. "There are often events in life that we never fully understand. Today holds one of those sad events."

Phelps said Caroline "was not only Chris and Stephanie's daughter and Kristian's little sister, but a child who was loved by many, many family members and friends, and was a beautiful child of our community."

People in the small town will rally around the family to comfort them, Burkesville resident Vickie Temple said.

"Burkesville is the type of community that when something like this happens, everybody comes together," Temple said. "That's just how our community is when something tragic happens."

Visitation begins at 6 p.m. Friday at Norris-New Funeral Home and continues until funeral services at 2 p.m. Saturday, also at the funeral home.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to The Caroline Sparks Fund, Citizens Bank of Cumberland County, P.O. Box 810, Burkesville, Ky., 42717.

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