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OGDEN — Kayleen Richins can never undo the mistake that took the life of 14-year-old Zackary Kempke, but she is determined to make sure others don’t have to experience the same pain and loss.
“Never in my life did I think I would be in this position,” Richins said. “We’ve always taken guns very seriously.”
Richins and her family were shooting targets in the Dairy Ridge area of the Monte Cristo Range on Sept. 23, 2018.
She said they normally checked to make sure the area was safe — but for some reason, they didn’t take that moment on this occasion.
“There were shotgun shells and clay pigeons all over, so obviously other people had been in the area, shooting,” Richins said. “It’s not an excuse. There is no excuse. We should have done our own investigation.”
Richins eventually fired the last few rounds from a hunting rifle.
“When we took our hearing protection off, we heard the screaming,” Richins said.
She wasn’t sure exactly what had happened until Zackary Kempke’s family pulled around the bend in their vehicle.
“Their Jeep pulled up on the hill above us, and we heard why they were screaming,” Richins said. “We ran up the hill to see if we could do something to help, and there was nothing that we could do.”
Zackary Kempke had been shot in the head and died instantly. Richins was ultimately required to appear in a gun safety video but said she continues to share her story and safety message because it’s important.
“Always have a backstop. Always do your own investigation,” Richins said. “Never assume an area is safe because someone’s been there before. Never assume because you’ve been in the area that you remember what it’s like.”
Richins travels all over the state sharing that message with kids as part of a Division of Wildlife Resources hunter safety program. She hands out orange bracelets that read, “No Backstop, No Shot.” Her family has also put together a website with the same name.
“As long as there’s somebody that wants to hear my message, I will come,” Richins said. “Whether it’s tomorrow or ten years from now. I don’t plan on stopping. This message needs to be out there.”