This week, the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office in Washington carried out the largest gun seizure in decades.
But this wasn’t a crackdown on a ring of seasoned thieves, Chief Criminal Deputy Charlie Rosenzweig said a group of teenagers is responsible for stealing more than 50 guns and other property from an elderly man who is also under investigation for his criminal cache of weapons.
The teenagers allegedly broke into a shed in rural Castle Rock where the guns were stored by their owner, an 87-year-old Portland man. They were among 440 guns — many of which police say likely are illegal, fully automatics — the man had stored there and which deputies seized.
“Looking through the building, it appears he was a sergeant, an airborne ranger in the Army,” Rosenzweig said, adding that there were several awards for his military service and for his target shooting inside the shed in addition to reloading equipment and ammunition. “All indications are this was his hobby.”
“Do we think that they had some bad intentions? Absolutely not. They committed a crime, they committed a serious crime. They’re going to be held responsible for that crime,” Rosenzweig said, adding that there’s no indication that this is related to gang or drug activity. The brothers admitted to being part of the
Rosenzweig said while half of the 440 guns seized guns from the elderly man were conventional firearms, however, the other guns were what he called ‘less conventional’ – having been modified to shoot fully automatic by being welded or pieced together. Rosenzweig said many of the pistols are meant for highly-accurate target practice.
Rosenzweig estimated at least a third of the guns are illegal, and most of those aren’t safe because of their modifications. Rosenzweig said it’s illegal to modify or possess any gun to become fully automatic without going through an extensive permitting process. Rosenzweig said he’s confident the owner hasn’t gone through that process.
The man pleaded guilty in 2010 to Social Security fraud and got six months in prison. It was not known if his right to own firearms has been restored. If not, it would be illegal for him to own any gun.
The father of two of the suspects, who lives near the elderly man’s shed, reported the robbery and told law enforcement he believed his sons were part of the robbery.
By the time the police tracked down the teens and their cache of stolen firearms, many of them had already been sold or pawned some and destroyed others, Rosenzweig said.
Rosenzweig said the young men have been “cooperative and honest” with authorities and believes “they got wind of these guns’ (location) and made a bad decision to steal them.”
A bad decision?
The list of young men and their bad decisions include: Skyler Smith (19) of Yelm arrested on suspicion of burglary, trafficking stolen property and theft of a firearm; Mycah U. Mendoza (18) of Kelso arrested on suspicion of burglary and theft of a firearm; Kyle M. Lopez (17) of Kelso arrested for burglary and theft of a firearm; a 15-year old from Kelso arrested on suspicion of burglary and theft of firearm; a 16-year-old from Kelso arrested on suspicion of burglary and theft of a firearm; a 16-year-old from Longview arrested on suspicion of burglary and trafficking in stolen property; a 17-year-old from Longview arrested on suspicion of burglary and theft of a firearm, and Justin C. Gillman (19) of Longview arrested on suspicion of burglary, theft of a firearm and trafficking stolen property. Of note; Gillman has an adult record from this April stemming from a fourth-degree domestic violence assault.