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Alleged BB gunmen collared

Teens had assault rifle

Posted: December 19, 2008 9:58 p.m.
Updated: December 20, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita Valley sheriff's deputies seized this BB gun, designed as a replica of a fully-automatic AR-15 assault rifle.

 

Two alleged BB-gun snipers facing felony charges, including assault with a deadly weapon, used a laser scope and a BB gun that looks like a fully automatic AR-15 assault rifle, according to deputies with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station.

The arrests Tuesday night capped a two-month shooting spree with more than two-dozen shootings investigated since Nov. 1.

Victims include a 53-year-old man shot in the head and a 13-year-old girl waiting for a bus, both shot with a BB.

An 18-year-old Saugus man and a 17-year-old Canyon Country male were booked at the sheriff's station on felony charges of vandalism and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with several shootings.

Investigators also arrested a second 17-year-old Wednesday, bringing the total of alleged snipers arrested to four since Monday. The investigation is ongoing.

"The two men arrested Tuesday are responsible for a large majority of the shootings," sheriff's Sgt. Darren Harris said.

Detectives and the county district attorney's office say the felony charges are intended to reflect the severity of the crime and to send a message.

"We want people to know that there are very serious consequences with this type of activity. And we want to paint a picture that we will not tolerate this," Harris said.

One of the two key suspects broke down crying when asked how he would feel if he blinded his younger brother with a BB gun, he added.

Since September, more than 35 incidents involving BB guns were reported to the sheriff's station; 26 since Nov. 1.

"Yes, we did see a pattern - an increase in this type of incident - and we realized we had a problem," Harris said, adding detectives have been investigating the shootings since they were first reported more than two months ago.

The arrests come in the nick of time, he said.

The snipers showed signs of escalating criminal behavior, he added, stopping short of saying the pair arrested would have started using firearms instead of BB guns.

"It would appear they became more brazen by targeting people," he said. "Was that a sign of escalation? Potentially. Was that moving on to the next step? Possibly."

On Tuesday night, deputies received a call from an alert resident who spotted individuals in a silver-colored Honda Accord shooting at vehicles with a BB gun near Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road. Deputies responded to the area and found a car matching the resident's description parked on Sierra Highway with two males getting out of it.

After speaking to the men, investigators found the pair in possession of two BB guns, a laser sight for one of the guns, several BBs and CO2 cartridges.

Both were arrested after deputies obtained additional information linking them directly to a recent assault. The 18-year-old is being held in lieu of $30,000 bail pending future court proceedings.

The juvenile arrested was on probation for vandalism and is being held at Sylmar Juvenile Hall without bail pending future court proceedings.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Saugus woman told deputies the rear window of her car was shot out as she drove down Haskell Canyon Road near Bouquet Canyon Road.

After searching the area, investigators spotted a screen-less open window at a residence in the 27700 block of Caraway Lane, which backs up to Haskell Canyon Road.

They knocked on the door and found a second 17-year-old boy (not the one arrested Tuesday) inside allegedly in possession of a pump-powered AR-17 BB air gun rifle.

The boy, already on probation for vandalism, was booked at the sheriff's station on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, held without bail and transferred to Sylmar Juvenile Hall.

Sheriff's deputies released a photo of the BB gun seized to show the people of Santa Clarita just how closely it resembles an AR-15 assault rifle and "to demonstrate how difficult it is for deputies to determined the threat level of any gun."

The boy allegedly pointed the gun out of an upstairs window and fired a projectile at a moving occupied vehicle.

"For deputies responding to reports of a person being shot at from an open window, who finds someone with a gun like this - it's a split-second life or death decision," Harris said. "Depending on how the decision goes, we have to live with that decision."

Deputies urge the owners of such guns to handle them safely and to talk with their teenagers about the dangers of owning such guns. "The guns should not be looked at or handled as toys," they stated in their press release about the recent arrests.

Shooting projectiles at people or at moving vehicles, windows or other objects is a felony, they point out, and those convicted could face "significant" prison sentences.

A shot motorist or bicyclist could lose control of their vehicle or bicycle, resulting in serious injury or death, leading to more severe felony charges.

As well, local deputies say, parents of teenagers owning such BB or pellet guns could be held civilly liable for damages to property or personal injury due to their unlawful or negligent use. Parents are urged to talk to their teenagers about the dangers associated with irresponsible and unlawful actions pertaining to air guns and the severe consequences that they could face if caught in violation of the law.

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