published Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Shooting of 11-year-old girl is double tragedy for Catoosa family

RINGGOLD, Ga. — A Catoosa County family facing a double tragedy — their 11-year-old daughter fatally shot by her 12-year-old brother — was in seclusion Saturday.

The Culpepper family's house on Bandy Road, near the Whitfield County line, was quiet and closed. The family was spending the day at a relative's, a friend said.

"This is a tight family," neighbor and friend Rosanne Diehl said. "It's tragic. ... Beth [Culpepper, the girl's mother] must be a mess."

It was the second accidental shooting of a child last week. On Wednesday, 3-year-old Kydalynn Graham accidentally shot herself in the face with a .45-caliber handgun at her grandfather's home in Cleveland, Tenn.

The Culpeppers were driving on Old Ringgold Road in Whitfield County a few miles from their home Friday night around 10:45. Parents Beth and Butch were in the cab of the family's truck, Cassie riding in the back with friends and her brother.

The boy had sneaked a .38-caliber revolver out of the house, hoping to use it to "scare" his sister, according to Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood.

The 12-year-old brother, who has not been named, thought the gun was unloaded and pointed it at Cassie's face. Then he pulled the trigger.

Beth Culpepper raced the truck back to the family's home and called for help, but Cassie was dead when help arrived, Chitwood said.

Diehl said she was surprised to see all the police and medical vehicles at the Culpeppers' house Friday night and was shocked to hear the news of Cassie's death.

"Oh, my gosh, it's my neighbors, not just some random child," she remembered thinking.

Friends and family are trying to offer support for the family as it copes with the tragedy.

"They're great folks. They're good neighbors; they're good people," said friend Dave Helton, who lives down the road.

Attempts to contact the Culpeppers on Saturday were unsuccessful.

"They just want people to respect their privacy while they get their bearings," Helton said.

The shooting occurred on the Whitfield side of the county line and is being investigated by the sheriff's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

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