Law enforcement officers routinely introduce firearms — their service weapons and others — into their own homes out of what they describe as a duty to protect their families and their communities.
They do so knowing there is risk. This week, 3-year-old Kalli Skogen was a gut-wrenching reminder.
"It's just sickening," said Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness, one of many sending sympathies to the Skogen family Wednesday. "The loss, the guilt, the embarrassment – it's a heartbreaker."
What many have described as a cop's worst nightmare played out in a Roseville suburb Tuesday evening.
In the garage with her father, Placer County Sheriff's Deputy Ken Skogen, 3-year-old Kalli got her hands on a .40-caliber pistol and shot herself.
Arriving police officers found the toddler in her mother's arms inside the home. She was brought first to Sutter Roseville Medical Center, then flown to UC Davis Children's Hospital when her condition worsened.
Shortly before 8:30 p.m., Kalli was pronounced dead.
Roseville police continued their investigation Wednesday, releasing few new details about the circumstances surrounding the incident, except to say the gun was not the deputy's service weapon.
Police said it appeared to be an accident; they noted, however, that does not rule out the possibility of criminal prosecution for failing to properly secure a handgun from a child's reach, as required by California law.
The Placer County District Attorney's Office will make that call after police complete their report.
On Wednesday, the Sheriff's Department announced that Skogen, a decorated three-year veteran, was on bereavement leave.
Josh Tindall, president of the Placer County Deputy Sheriffs' Association, released a statement thanking the community for thoughts and prayers, and emergency personnel for their efforts.
"No words can explain what has happened beyond saying that it was a tragic accident," Tindall wrote. "The anguish that the family, their friends, and co-workers are experiencing cannot be expressed and we ask you all for your support and understanding."
The news has shaken others in law enforcement as well, including Sacramento Police Officer Brent Meyer.
Meyer, who also serves as union president, has a 3-year-old daughter. The news "stopped me in my tracks."
"I almost cried," he said. "It very much hit home about the reality of handguns and just how dangerous they are in the hands of somebody who is inexperienced or, in the case of a 3-year-old, doesn't know."
Such tragedies appear rare. In Northern California, it's happened twice in recent years: The 4-year-old son of a Redding police officer died in 2008 after accidentally shooting himself in the head. Earlier the same year, a Sutter County sheriff's deputy lost his 3-year-old after the boy grabbed his loaded gun and shot himself.
But hundreds of children have died in accidental shootings across the country over the past decade.
Between 1999 and 2006, the last year for which data are available, 980 children in the United States perished in accidents from gunshot wounds, according to figures from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Although those figures do not specify where the incidents took place, children typically are shot accidentally in their homes, said Dr. Garen Wintemute, emergency medicine physician and director of the University of California, Davis' Violence Prevention Research Program.
That it happened this week in the home of a law enforcement officer – who is intimately aware of the dangers of guns and who is trained in using them safely – underscores the threat in any home, Wintemute said.
"If we rely on the behavior of parents to make the home risk-free, we're going to fail," he said. "Nobody is perfect."
The best precaution, the doctor said, is to keep guns out of homes with young children. Gun locks and safes are the next best options.
What doesn't work?
"Having a gun loaded and just hidden away, and assuming the kids won't find it," Wintemute said. "The kids always find it."
He also cautioned against relying on training children about the dangers of guns and expecting they won't touch any they come across.
Studies have shown such training to be ineffective, Wintemute said.
"Even when (children are at the age) they can tell you reliably that they shouldn't be messing with guns, they still do because children are explorers," he said. "It's how they learn to master the world."
Read the full story at the Sacramento Bee.