Arizona grandpa leaves 5-year-old girl in desert with gun

PHOENIX (REUTERS) - An Arizona grandfather has been arrested and accused of leaving his five-year-old granddaughter alone in the desert with a loaded and cocked .45-calibre handgun and the instruction to "shoot any bad guys", the authorities said on Monday (Nov 2).

Paul Armand Rater, 53, was booked into the Fourth Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix on suspicion of two counts of felony child abuse and one count of felony child endangerment stemming from incident on Sunday night.

Deputies said he and the child left their home in Buckeye, about 48km west of Phoenix, in a pickup truck early on Sunday afternoon and that the girl was reported missing four hours later.

She was eventually located in the desert by her mother and an off-duty firefighter. The child was holding the powerful pistol.

"She was given the gun and told to shoot any bad guys," Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio told Reuters by telephone. "I don't know how a five-year-old can tell a good guy from a bad guy, but that's what she said she was told."

Rater was later located at a store where he told deputies that the vehicle had broken down and that he had left the girl under a tree in the desert because she was complaining she could not walk anymore, court records showed.

He admitted leaving the girl with his gun, "while he went for a few drinks and a cheeseburger", the sheriff's office said.

The child was returned to her mother and the state child welfare authorities were alerted, the sheriff's office said.