By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) – The first child to die from gunfire in Yellowstone National Park in three-quarters of a century was a 3-year-old girl killed over the weekend by a bullet shot from her father’s handgun at a popular lakeside campsite, park officials said on Sunday.
Little information was released by authorities about the toddler’s death since her mother called emergency dispatchers on Saturday to report that her daughter had shot herself at the Grant Village campground on the shores of Yellowstone Lake.
Emergency personnel were unable to resuscitate the child, whose name was being withheld until Monday at the request of the family, who are from Idaho, park spokesman Al Nash said.
The death comes three years after enactment of a federal law that lifted a decades-old ban on the possession of firearms by visitors to most national parks, including Yellowstone.
It marks the first fatal shooting in Yellowstone since 1978, and the first shooting death of a child in the park since 1938, when the 13-year-old son of the park’s master mechanic accidentally shot himself in the head with a rifle, Nash said.
A portion of the forested campsite where the shooting occurred remained cordoned off on Sunday as Yellowstone rangers and special agents with the National Park Service continued their investigation of an incident that Nash described as “the kind of thing that isn’t supposed to happen here.”
Park officials revealed the girl’s age on Sunday and said the weapon was a pistol that belonged to her father.
Authorities have declined to say whether investigators believe the shooting was accidental or deliberate.
The Grant Village campground in Yellowstone, which spans nearly 3,500 square miles of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, sits in the Wyoming section of the park near a developed area that contains a ranger station, lodge, shower facilities and other amenities.
It remains unlawful in most national parks including Yellowstone, celebrated for natural wonders like the Old Faithful Geyser and for an abundance of wildlife such as bison, elk and grizzly bears, to hunt or to fire a gun.
The legislation allowing visitors to carry guns in the parks was tacked on to a credit card bill passed by Congress in 2009 and signed into law by President Barack Obama.
The measure was backed by gun-rights proponents like the National Rifle Association, but opposed by groups representing park rangers and retired National Park Service employees.
Supporters said it would provide uniformity to a patchwork of firearms regulations that allowed guns in public lands overseen by the U.S. Forest Service and federal Bureau of Land Management, but not in national parks and wildlife refuges.
Opponents said the law would heighten risks for visitors and park employees, embolden poachers and complicate prosecution of wildlife crimes.