Pellet guns create `serious stir’
September 29, 2003
Police armed with an assault rifle and handguns, acting on reports of a man “waving a gun” near the Aspen Saturday Market, apprehended four teenagers playing with realistic-looking pellet guns.
No one was injured in the incident, but “it did create a pretty serious stir,” said Sgt. Bill Linn of the Aspen Police Department.
A bystander called dispatchers around 3 p.m. Saturday to report someone “waving a gun around and pointing it at people” at the corner of Hunter Street and Hyman Avenue, not far from the crowd that typically gathers for the Saturday market.
“The person that called it in … thought it was maybe a drug deal gone wrong,” Linn said. “He saw people pointing guns at each other and yelling things at each other like they were really going to be shooting each other.”
Three Aspen officers and two Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputies responded, Linn said. They spotted a suspect and his weapon shortly after surrounding the dirt parking lot at the corner of Hunter and Hyman.
“When officers pulled up, one of the officers actually saw a young man fitting the description waving a gun and pointing it at some other people, and we responded in force,” Linn said.
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Officers rushed two vehicles, a red Jeep Wrangler and a green Ford Ranger pickup.
Four people were forced out of the vehicles at gunpoint, “which is absolutely normal policy for people who are armed,” Linn said. Two suspects were handcuffed.
Police were then able to get a closer look at the suspects and their weapons, Linn said.
“We learned that they were all about the age of 16, and they were playing with toy guns,” he said.
Officers verified that the three confiscated guns were, in fact, pellet guns, though they “are very, very realistic looking,” Linn said.
The four teens – a 15-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy and two 16-year-old boys – seemed genuinely surprised by the fuss they caused, Linn said.
“The story, as they told it, is that they weren’t intending to freak everyone else out. They were playing among themselves, and not paying attention” to how it affected passers-by, Linn continued.
One of the boys said he eventually saw someone using a police radio and “got concerned that they were attracting more attention than they intended,” Linn said. By then, it was too late – police had surrounded the juveniles’ vehicles.
The girl was released shortly after the incident was resolved “because we did not believe she had any involvement at all,” Linn said. The boys were released to their parents after a lecture from police.
The teens – all Roaring Fork Valley residents – will find out if they face criminal charges later this week. The local district attorney reviews all cases involving juveniles to see if prosecution is warranted, Linn said.
Police aren’t sure if the three boys will face a judge in the near future because no physical damage was done.
“Just psychological, a lot of stress,” Linn said.
Officers hope local youth – especially the four teens – will learn a lesson from Saturday’s scare.
“If they want to play, there’s a time and place for that,” Linn said. “But doing it in public, with realistic-looking guns, is not the place for it.”
Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org