NORENE, Tenn. — A mix-up between a Wii game and a .380 caliber pistol led a 3-year-old to pluck the real gun from an end table and shoot herself in the abdomen, ending her life, Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe said.
Cheyenne Alexis McKeehan's stepfather, Doug Cronberger, and her mother, Tina Ann Cronberger, both 32, were inside their rural Norene home when the child shot herself Sunday night. Her mother was on the computer just a few feet away, Ashe said.
Douglas Cronberger usually kept his gun unloaded and in a cabinet. However, on Saturday night, Cronberger got out his gun, loaded it and went outside to look for what he thought was a prowler. When he came back inside, he put the gun on an end table in the living room and forgot about it, according to a Sheriff's Department statement.
The statement also said Cheyenne learned how to use a gun from playing a Nintendo Wii game for days.
"The big message we're trying to tell parents is if you've got a gun, put it up, especially if you have children," Ashe said.
Physicians at University Medical Center in Lebanon pronounced Cheyenne dead just after her arrival.
Her body was taken to the state medical examiner's office for an autopsy Monday. There are no criminal charges pending, but the sheriff's office will turn information culled in its investigation over to prosecutors.
At the Cronbergers' cream-colored mobile home on Monday, cars
sat in the driveway but no one answered the door. A large, white dog with one blue eye and one brown eye greeted anyone who approached. A child's plastic toy kitchen set was beside the steps, near a brown welcome mat that said, "Bless this home."
Although McKeehan lived in Norene, a tiny, unincorporated community between Watertown and Lebanon, she attended preschool at Southside Elementary School in Lebanon.
"I feel like someone just stabbed me in the heart," said Southside Principal Danny Hill on Monday, after learning about the death. "Cheyenne attended Mrs. Susan Casner's afternoon preschool class."
Hill was vacationing in Florida for spring break. He said Cheyenne's teacher described her as "a sweet, spunky little girl who will be sadly missed."
Ashe said a 1-year-old also lived in the Cronberger home.
Partlow Funeral Home in Lebanon is handling arrangements but not releasing details at the family's request.
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