Homes, child’s bedroom struck
by Beth Altena
Several incidents of gunfire from assault weapons has left neighborhood residents unsure of their safety after high-power bullets—including those from an AK-47—penetrated several homes and whizzed past parents and children relaxing at the local playground “tot lot.” Saddle Ridge community resident Suzette Garvey said people for years have been using the Rogue River Extension area as a place to practice shooting, but now an increase in the use of high-powered weapons are putting people’s lives in danger.
On Wednesday, April 27, Garvey’s 12-year-old son and friends were looking over the poured foundation of a home under construction just four lots down from the Garvey’s home, when the sound of gunfire shattered the quiet. “One of the boys whose dad is a hunter told them what to do if they heard gunfire,” Garvey said. “They dropped to the ground and took cover as they made their way back to the house.”
The Kent County Sheriff’s Department and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are investigating at least three recent incidents of bullets striking homes and a light pole in the Saddle Ridge neighborhood, which is located a half mile to the west of the Rogue River Extension nature area, located east of Algoma Avenue and north of Fonger Road.
Bullets penetrated a home exterior and bedroom in the 9700 block of Sunset Ridge on April 10, and during a canvass of the area by Kent County Policing officer Tonya Walkons and DNR officers found another home which had also been struck. In that case the bullet passed close to a little girl’s bed and stopped in a bathroom. Two other homes had also been struck by bullets.
Through their investigation, it was determined that three Rockford area men had fired the bullets from an AK-47 rifle and a .30 X .30 caliber rifle while target shooting at the Rogue River Extension Area, located one half mile from the damaged homes. They have been cited for misdemeanor Reckless Discharge of a Firearm.
On April 23, the Sheriff’s Department took a report of a light post that had been hit by a bullet in the 9500 block of Algoma Ave which is located south of the Rogue River Extension Area.
On April 27, at 5:23 p.m., the Kent County Sheriff’s Department again responded to shots being fired from the Rogue River Extension Area and residents reporting that bullets could be heard passing through the air near them while outside in the 2800 block of S. Saddle Ridge Court and 2800 block of N Saddle Ridge Court. Again, the Community Policing Deputy discovered high-powered rifle cartridges at the scene of the shooting area.
Capt. Chuck DeWitt said the incidents are the result of poor judgment combined with high powered weapons. He said the bullets hitting homes occurred because the three men were shooting the rifles up into the air, which is unsafe no matter what type of gun is being used. With the high-powered rifles, the opportunity for danger increased because of the increased range of the guns. He said there was nothing leading officers to believe the three were involved in the second and third incidents reported, although all were the result of poor judgment.
DeWitt said it is not illegal to shoot or hunt with assault rifles, which are designed to have a lot of bang for infantrymen in the military, but he doubts many hunters would choose to use one. He also said the weapons, used with common-sense safety precautions that any gun user should follow, would not be dangerous, even in that setting. The AK-47 and similar guns are increasingly in popularity. “A lot of people hear AK-47 and conjure up bad things,” he stated. “It doesn’t matter if it’s an AK-47 or a regular rifle, either way its poor judgment that causes problems.” He said the three men in the initial incident started out by doing something lawful that became unlawful with their bad judgment. He also said they had no intention of hurting or scaring anyone and will be held accountable for their actions.
Garvey said there is a sign on the public land stating that target practice there is not safe, but people have been shooting there for years regardless. She hopes the DNR will make it illegal to target practice so authorities will be better able to enforce violations.
“The target practice has been going on for years,” Garvey said. “It was always more of an auditory concern, we weren’t too worried about what if something happened. Now, the what if has happened and people were narrowly missed. It’s a safety issue.”
The Kent County Sheriff’s Department discourages target shooting at the location. Target shooters in northern Kent County should use the target shooting location on 20 Mile Road, west of Red Pine Drive in the Rogue River State Game Area located in Tyrone Township. The Sheriff reminds target shooters that they are legally required to use reasonable caution for the safety of property or others whenever they are shooting and must always have a safe backstop.