Special Reports

Gun shop files theft report

Workers at Bull's Eye Shooter Supply have officially reported that the Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle linked to the deadly sniper shootings was stolen between July and October.

Though the rifle was on display and equipped with multiple accessories, workers at the Tacoma gun shop say they never noticed its disappearance and didn't realize it had been stolen until federal agents asked about it.

Bull's Eye manager Deborah McCollum called Tacoma police Tuesday afternoon to report the theft. She also called a federal hot line operated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Last week, ATF agents scoured Bull's Eye, searching in vain for records associated with the rifle's purchase. An ATF spokeswoman said Wednesday the investigation was continuing.

Bull's Eye owner Brian Borgelt could not be reached Wednesday.

According to the police report, the gun, a .223-caliber Bushmaster XM15, was delivered to the shop July 2, and valued at $1,600. After its arrival, it was fitted with various accessories, including grips, a bipod, a mount for the bipod, a hollow sight and a laser sight.

Thus equipped, it was displayed behind the counter on a shelf. McCollum told police it was not separately secured.

Gun shop employees told police they have no idea when it was taken, and did not notice its disappearance until Oct. 24, when ATF agents inquired about the weapon. The employees offered no information to authorities about who might have stolen the gun or when.

The police report shows the gun has the same serial number as the Bushmaster rifle found with sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo at the time of their arrest Oct. 24 in Maryland.

Federal charging documents list the weapon among items confiscated from the car Muhammad and Malvo were driving. The documents do not mention the accessories associated with the gun in Tacoma.

The Bushmaster has been linked to fatal shootings in Maryland, Virginia, Louisiana and Alabama. Muhammad and Malvo face multiple murder charges in those states, and have been named as suspects in a cross-country shooting spree that left 12 people dead and five wounded.

They also are suspected in the death of 21-year-old Keenya Cook, who was shot to death Feb. 16 in the doorway of her aunt and uncle's home in Tacoma.

The earliest link between the rifle and the sniper shootings dates to Sept. 21 in Montgomery, Ala., where Muhammad and Malvo have been charged with killing one woman and wounding another outside a liquor store. Alabama authorities say ballistics tests connect the Bushmaster to the shooting.

Court documents and news reports of Muhammad's movements show him criss-crossing the country last summer. One arrest warrant suggests Muhammad was in the Tacoma area in late June or early July.

In the warrant, filed Oct. 23 in U.S. District Court in Seattle, ATF agents describe an Oct. 22 interview with Robert Holmes, a friend of Muhammad's in Tacoma. Holmes told agents he had seen Muhammad three times in the previous six months. The second visit occurred, he said, "approximately four months" earlier, or about June 22.

The New York Times and The Washington Post have reported that Muhammad visited his childhood home in Louisiana in late July, then returned to Tacoma briefly in August, when he tried to buy a car.

Investigators in Maryland suspect Muhammad and Malvo may have been involved in shootings Sept. 5 and 15, though they have not tied the rifle to those crimes.

McCollum, the Bull's Eye manager, told police Tuesday that ATF agents knew of the theft and had the paperwork - including serial numbers - on all the items that had been added to the gun. She filled out a Federal Firearms Licensee Theft/Loss report and gave Tacoma police a copy.

Police spokesman Jim Mattheis said officers entered the report into the department's system Wednesday morning for follow-up investigation.

Because the gun has been recovered and the ATF is investigating how Muhammad got it, it was unclear what role local detectives will play. In general, Tacoma police investigate stolen guns and notify ATF of the thefts.

Mattheis said he did not know late Wednesday whether Bull's Eye had recently reported any other guns stolen. ATF spokesman Martha Tebbenkamp said the agency could not reveal whether the store had reported gun thefts to ATF in the past.

Licensed firearms dealers must report gun thefts within 48 hours of their discovery. Failure to do so violates federal law. If the failure is deliberate, penalties can reach five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Tebbenkamp said the ATF has received about 2,100 reports of firearm theft nationwide in 2002. The records are entered into a database. Their handling after recovery depends on each case.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486

sean.robinson@mail.tribnet.com

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268

stacey.mulick@mail.tribnet.com

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