A man stands accused of leaving his 5-year-old granddaughter alone in the Arizona desert with a handgun, which was loaded and cocked, authorities say.
Paul Rater, 53, was arrested on two counts of child abuse and one count of child endangerment, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Rater’s granddaughter was returned to a parent after the incident.
On Sunday, Rater left his Buckeye, Ariz., home with the girl, who was reported missing four hours later, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said in a news release.
Authorities used a helicopter to search for the child, but her family later contacted the agency and reported that “the little girl had been located, all alone, in the desert with the loaded handgun,” according to a sheriff’s office news release.
“She was given the gun and told to shoot any bad guys,” Arpaio old Reuters. “I don’t know how a 5-year-old can tell a good guy from a bad guy, but that’s what she said she was told.”
The Arizona Republic reported that an off-duty firefighter and the girl’s grandmother found the child.
The newspaper reported that “the child, who was unharmed, was holding the firearm when she was found. It was fully loaded, with one round in the chamber and the hammer locked back, according to a probable-cause statement. The firefighter drove the girl out of the desert on an ATV, and she was reunited with her mother at about 7:15 p.m.”
Deputies later located Rater in a store, and he “admitted to leaving the little girl in the desert, with the gun, while he went for a few drinks and a cheeseburger,” according to the sheriff’s office.
“I don’t know why papa left me,” a deputy reported overhearing the girl say during a conversation with her grandmother, according to the Republic. “He took me by some bushes, gave me a gun and left me.”
Rater remained in custody Tuesday, according to a sheriff’s office spokesman.
Arrested 53yo Paul Rater for leaving 5yo granddaughter in desert with gun & went to drink. There is no reason, no excuse for this crime.
— Joe Arpaio (@RealSheriffJoe) November 2, 2015