A 14-year-old Weber County boy died Sunday afternoon after authorities say he was accidentally shot and killed while riding in a car with his family near target shooters in a remote area in northern Utah.
Zack Kempke and his family were driving around the Monte Cristo area of Rich County, taking photos with the fall leaves to send to his older brother, who is serving a mission in Oregon for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Kempke’s uncle, Cory Hopkins.
Kempke was sitting in the back seat of the family car as his father drove them out of the mountains to return home, when a bullet broke through the window and struck Kempke in the head, according to the Rich County Sheriff’s Office.
“About 3 or 4 (p.m.), they were driving out of Dairy Ridge up on Monte Cristo, back in there several miles, coming out when my brother-in-law heard an explosion,” said Hopkins, who the family asked to speak to media.
When Kempke’s father turned around to look into the backseat, he saw Kempke had been shot, Hopkins said.
Kempke died immediately, Hopkins said.
The family drove up the mountain to get in range of cell service, when they noticed people on the ridge, Hopkins said. The people were target-shooting about 200 yards from where Kempke was when he was shot, Hopkins said, confirming the sheriff’s reports. The shooters found a spot to call police and returned, Hopkins said. They have been cooperative, Hopkins said.
The target shooters later told police that they did not know there was a road down range, the sheriff’s office said in a news release, and did not see the vehicle on the road because of thick brush and trees in the area.
“Investigators from several agencies worked past dark on Sunday and several hours on Monday to reconstruct the scene,” the news release states. “At this time, it appears to have been unintentional.”
Kempke, a ninth-grader at North Ogden Junior High, was “the center of attention whenever we had family get-togethers,” Hopkins said.
“He would dance and play and was a practical joker, active in academics and in plays,” Hopkins said. “Just a good young man.”
No arrests were made, and no charges have been filed as of Monday.
“The family doesn’t necessarily want charges filed because it’s a tragedy on both sides,” Hopkins said. They also don’t want Kempke’s death to become a topic in a gun control debate, Hopkins said.
Authorities have not released the identities of any of those involved in the shooting.