Story by KATIE SEMINARA
Photos by WILLIAM D. LEWIS
Two incidents involving semiautomatic rifles within days may have rattled some law enforcement officials and residents.
But these weapons have been on the streets for years, Youngstown and Warren police said.
A house on the 100 block of Cleveland Street on Youngstown’s South Side was hammered by more than 40 bullets Tuesday.
“The majority were from an AK-47 assault rifle,” said Detective Sgt. Ron Rodway.
No one was in the house when it was fired upon.
“This is one of the worst cases of a house being shot up I’ve seen,” Rodway said. “The house was just riddled with bullets.”
One week earlier, a similar weapon was used in a drive-by shooting in the 2000 block of Wick Street Southeast in Warren.
The April 13 incident left one child injured and two dead; an 11-year-old boy and a 26-year-old man.
“It’s very rare to see that kind of firepower,” said Capt. Tim Bowers, acting chief of Warren.
Although the shootings spanned just eight days, area police departments believe the incidents are isolated and don’t believe they are witnessing an increase in assault weapons crimes.
“We’ve taken the same number off the streets the past three years, and this year is on the same tier with those numbers,” said Bowers.
“Fifteen years ago I investigated a triple homicide where an assault rifle was used. It’s happening now and it happened then, all we can do is try to prevent it from happening again,” he said.
Of the weapons confiscated in Youngstown, Officer Nick Marciano estimated that 35 percent are rifles and shotguns.
“I don’t know that there’s necessarily been any increase. These weapons have been on the streets for decades,” said Detective Sgt. Jason Simon, adding anyone can buy or steal them.
“Just like you can buy a microwave or TV, you can get guns” added Marciano.
A rifle was used during a Feb. 22 shooting at two homes on the 900 block of Delaware Avenue. The shooting resulted in a 6-year-old boy being shot in the foot and left one man dead after he was shot in the head, according to Vindicator files.
After crimes of this nature, officers confiscate various guns that wind up in evidence vaults at the station.
The vaults hold rifles such as AK-47s, M-16s and SKSs, as well as 9mm handguns, with brand names such as Hi-Point and Smith & Wesson.
Gun dealers report people are buying firearms and plenty of ammunition. The downfall for legitimate gun shops is that many guns on the streets are purchased at gun shows from private owners, said Ron Oldland, owner of Expert Outfitters Gun Shop.
Oldland can control the quality of weapons sold in his shop and who purchases them, but anyone of legal age can purchase ammunition. The availability of ammunition at the store has decreased due to the nationwide increase in firearm sales.
“We used to be able to get cases, now we’re lucky to get one box,” Oldland said.
Gun owners have resorted to scouring the area gun shops for ammo, so when they find it, instead of buying one box, they are buying three to five boxes, he said.
It’s a bit unnerving to know that criminals who may have purchased assault weapons from someone peddling out of their trunk can purchase ammo, he said. Oldland has also seen a number of older men come in and purchase assault weapons.
“They say, ‘We never thought we would own one of these, but we don’t want to be told we can’t have one,’” he said of their concern that gun and ammo bans may be enacted by Congress or President Barack Obama’s administration.
Marciano added, “With the possible cut backs in the police department, people are worried about their own house.”
No matter the reason for gun purchasing, Simon said most people who buy guns are responsible and take the classes on gun safety.
“Everyone has a right to protect their household,” he said. “It’s not really the gun, it’s the person and their intent.”
Youngstown officers carry Sig Sauer P226 40 caliber handguns, which is the standard for law enforcers. The recent activity with rifles hasn’t prompted conversation on switching to a higher-powered weapon, Simon said.
In Warren, however, those concerns have been discussed.
“I’ve been approached by several officers who say they don’t want to be out-gunned on the street,” said Bowers.
ASSAULT WEAPON CRIMES
Two incidents within the last week involving high-powered weapons shook Youngstown and Warren.
The following include those incidents and others:
April 21, 2009
A house on the 100 block of Cleveland Street in Youngstown was fired on more than 40 times. “The majority were from an AK-47 assault rifle,” said Detective Sgt. Ron Rodway.
April 13, 2009
A similar weapon was used in a drive-by shooting in the 2000 block of Wick Street Southeast in Warren. One child was injured and two are dead; an 11-year-old boy and a 26-year-old man. Police believe someone drove past the home indiscriminately firing a high-powered assault weapon into the dwelling.
April 3, 2009
Officers were called to a house on the 1700 block of Southwest Boulevard in reference to numerous shots fired. The victim said he and his son were in the house when unknown suspects began shooting the rear of the house.
February 22, 2009
A 6-year-old boy was shot in the foot, and a man died after being shot in the head after shooting in two homes on the 900 block of Delaware Avenue in Youngstown.
A Waynesburg (Pa.) University student said a gunman took his cellphone, earrings and watch. The 19-year-old victim told police he was going to a party on Ohio Avenue, Youngstown. As he approached his friend’s car, which was at the curb in the 1600 block of Stewart Avenue, a man wearing a ski mask emerged and pointed an AK-47 at the man and his friend.
Police were called to Hamilton Street and Austin Avenue Southwest in Warren, near Quinby Park, where a pedestrian reported being hit in the arm by gunfire coming from a AK-47 being fired from a van.
SOURCE: Vindicator files and Warren and Youngstown police reports