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Arizona grandfather says he left girl with gun in desert to get help

PHOENIX — An Arizona grandfather told a judge he was trying to go for help when he allegedly abandoned his young granddaughter in the desert with a loaded handgun.

Paul Rater made his initial court appearance Tuesday, one day after being charged with two counts of child abuse and one count of child endangerment. He said he tried to find help after his new truck got stuck while the pair were off-roading.

“I just bought this truck,” he said. “I’d never been four-wheeling with it. I’d been down this route with a different truck and never had a problem with it.”

After he was unable to free the truck, Rater said he decided to walk with his granddaughter to find help. He could not call 911 as he forgot his phone.

Rater said the 5-year-old girl was “pissing and moaning” and wanted to nap so he put her under a shade tree. He said he left the loaded .45-caliber handgun because he didn’t need to carry it with him and he “had to make time.”

An emotional Rater said he got lost and accidentally circled back to his truck about three hours later, where he called out for his granddaughter but received no answer. It is possible the girl had been located by family before he returned.

He then walked an estimated 10 miles to a local feed store and bar, where law enforcement found him. Rater said he came across several people as he walked to the store. He told them to look for his granddaughter. He did not call 911.

“As soon as I get in there, I call my wife,” he said. “Five minutes later, the cops come.”

Rater’s wife, Terri, told deputies that Rater seemed to be “pissed off” when he called her from the store and demanded to be picked up.

Rater ordered a few drinks and a cheeseburger when he arrived at the store.

“The only reason I got something to eat was because I hadn’t eaten in six hours,” he said. “I drank two sodas and then I started drinking beer because I don’t like soda. I was dehydrated.”

Rater is being held on a $25,000 bond.

The girl was returned to her mother and deputies notified the Department of Child Safety of the incident. She was not injured.

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