The owner of Bull's Eye Shooter Supply said Thursday he is offering a $2,000 reward for information about a Bushmaster rifle he says was stolen from his store and later used in the sniper shootings.
Brian Borgelt announced the reward two days after one of his store managers filed a theft report with Tacoma police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Borgelt, 38, said he could not explain how the rifle's disappearance went unnoticed for almost four months between July 2 and Oct. 24, when ATF agents asked about it.
"Believe me, no one here wants that answered more than me," he said. "It's one of my burning questions."
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Federal agents recovered the rifle Oct. 24 in Maryland after arresting sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo. The two have been linked to 15 deaths and five woundings in Louisiana, Alabama, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia and Arizona.
Muhammad also is suspected in the death of 21-year-old Keenya Cook, who was shot to death Feb. 16 on the doorstop of her aunt and uncle's home in Tacoma.
The weapon was found in a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice driven by the suspects. The serial number matches the rifle reported stolen from Bull's Eye.
The rifle was delivered to the shop July 2. After its arrival, it was equipped with several accessories, including grips, a bipod and a laser sight. In the police report, the combined value of the rifle and accessories is listed at $1,600.
According to the police report, the rifle was displayed behind a sales counter at Bull's Eye, along with other weapons. At some point between July and October, it vanished.
"You report a theft when you identify a theft," Borgelt said. "Even after we suspected this theft, we had to exhaustively conclude that it was a theft, that it wasn't some sort of clerical error."
Inside the shop, almost 300 rifles are displayed along one wall, stacked side by side, barrels down, in three dozen notched wooden gun racks. Each rack holds seven or eight rifles.
"This isn't like counting to 10," Borgelt said. "It isn't about a set inventory that sits stagnant. It's a flow of merchandise."
The store carries long-barreled weapons from multiple manufacturers. One section of about three racks holds weapons by Bushmaster. A sign above that section reads, "Bushmaster Firearms - The BEST By a Long Shot."
The store also sells accessories such as gun locks, and provides training in firearm use and self-defense, including martial arts.
"We don't just sell guns," Borgelt said.
He hears the scoffing from skeptics who wonder how a piece of merchandise valued at more than $1,000 could be stolen without anyone noticing.
He will not address the question specifically, except to say it is part of the ATF's investigation.
"The details of that could lead to an arrest," he said. "I don't want to compromise that possibility."
He said he has never had a break-in at the store at 414 Puyallup Ave. He said he relies on employees for security, and would not say whether the store has an electronic security system or a metal detector.
He declined to say whether an employee could have stolen the weapon.
"I'm going to continue to believe in these guys until somebody proves otherwise," he said.
Thursday, eight employees were working on the first floor of the shop. The store is open seven days a week. Borgelt said his staff works in shifts.
At the time of Muhammad's arrest, ATF agents came to Bull's Eye and began combing through store records, searching for the legal record of the weapon's sale. That investigation is still in progress, according to Borgelt and the ATF.
"We strive for 100 percent accountability for our firearms," Borgelt said. "This whole issue is about accountability and responsibility.
"There's a been a lot of finger-pointing and speculation and a lot of conclusions that have been drawn prematurely. We are trying to be scientific and objective. That's how we strive to conduct ourselves every day down here."
Since the arrests, Borgelt has been besieged by media inquiries from throughout the nation. He has refused most requests for interviews.
One of his employees quit because he couldn't handle the strain. Borgelt said even his barber has been forced to defend him against criticism.
"He's chewed me out for all the defense he's been running for me," Borgelt said.
Several media reports have suggested the ATF agents could not find records for some of the guns sold at the shop. The numbers cited range from 150 to 340, though ATF has never officially confirmed them.
Borgelt strongly disputes those numbers, calling them premature and inaccurate, but he will not specifically contradict them with any statistics. Those will come when the ATF completes its work, he said.
"The issue here is the actions of a cold-blooded killer," he said. "Not the tool he used, the manufacturer of the tool or the distribution of the tool."
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486