Stray bullet from neighbor’s gun range ‘terrifies’ family
By DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org July 7, 2012 12:06AM
Bill Gaskin displays a photo of his window (top right) that was struck by a stray bullet from a neighbor's alleged shooting event as seen Thursday, July 5, 2012, in Green Garden Township. The bullet also pierced a second floor wall and came to rest inside his son's bedroom closet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 9, 2012 6:22AM
Debra Gaskin was outside last Saturday morning cleaning up after the previous night’s storm when the shooting began.
At first, she attributed the “pops” on June 30 to an early Fourth of July celebration. But when it didn’t let up, she realized her Green Garden Township neighbors were at it again.
“I could hear the whistling of bullets and the pinging of them hitting metal,” she said. “I was getting worried, so I went inside.”
She was in the basement when she heard a loud “bang,” and then her 13-year-old son started screaming. A bullet had struck the family room window and continued on, piercing a wall in a bedroom closet where her 17-year-old son was sleeping.
“We were terrified,” she said. “We didn’t know what we’d find behind that door when we opened it.”
Though her children were not hit by the errant bullet that clearly missed its target on their neighbor’s makeshift gun range, Debra Gaskin was livid that such a thing could happen.
She called her husband, Bill, at work, then the Will County sheriff’s police.
Debra Gaskin said the officer who came out to their three-acre property said there was nothing he could do, that range shooting was legal in some parts of Will County, especially where the houses were far apart. When she persisted, insisting that firing into a person’s home was not legal, he called another officer. Together, the officers went to the neighbor’s house. Bill Gaskin, having returned from work, did the same.
Sheriff’s police spokeswoman Kathy Hoffmeyer said deputies found a makeshift shooting range on Joseph Merritt’s property. It had three shooting areas, about 30 yards wide and separated by 10-foot-high concrete block walls, Hoffmeyer said.
“The homeowner said he always believed that the range was safe,” Hoffmeyer said. “And when he found out why the deputies were there, he was physically upset and concerned.”
Merritt was unable to be reached for comment. He did not have a working phone number listed.
Bill Gaskin said Merritt apologized and offered to pay for the damage caused by one of the 25 or 30 shooters at the target practice event he was hosting that day.
Gaskin said that event was run by DMZ Tactical in Homer Glen. A man named “George,” of DMZ, who would not confirm his last name, says he was at the event but insists he did not run it. He said he also apologized for the wayward shot.
“We do everything possible to keep it safe,” “George” said. “This was an accident.”
Bill Gaskin said his encounter with “George” turned ugly after he asked about the shooting instructor’s credentials.
“George” on Thursday told the SouthtownStar that he’s been teaching people how to shoot since he got out of the Marines in the 1990s. His website describes his mission as “tactical firearm training for the rest of us.” DMZ Tactical has been in business for a couple of years now, “George” said, although it is not registered with the village of Homer Glen nor with the Illinois secretary of state’s office. The address listed on his website leads to a box inside a UPS Store.
Still, “George” insists, “It’s not illegal, it’s done legitimately, and we’re as safe as possible.”
He also accused Bill Gaskin of being “anti-gun.”
Bill Gaskin said he is a member of the NRA and Illinois Rifle Association.
“I’m not anti-gun, just anti-irresponsible shooting,” he said. “I lobby in Springfield each year for conceal and carry because I believe in it. I don’t believe in irresponsible gun practices.”
The Gaskins have four sons.
“This is a hang-out house. We have kids over here all the time,” Bill Gaskin said. “They hang out in the yard because we have a pool.”
The Gaskins say they’re leery of starting trouble in their neighborhood. They’ve accepted their neighbor’s apology but think Will County officials ought to look into the incident.
Though Merritt has agreed not to host any more events at this address, Bill Gaskin said he’s concerned for the safety of others.
Curt Paddock, director of the Will County Land Use Department, said shooting is allowed in Will County on property zoned C-6 commercial, according to county ordinances. Paddock said no properties in the area where Gaskin lives appear to be zoned C-6.
He says his office will investigate, if the homeowners file a complaint.
So why didn’t sheriff’s police cite Merritt? Hoffmeyer said deputies found a spent 9 mm round on the floor of the son’s closet.
Sheriff Paul Kaupas said the deputy interviewed the homeowner and the shooting party’s host and everyone cooperated.
“It doesn’t appear there was any criminal intent,” Kaupas said. “The state’s attorney’s office will review the case. It’s not illegal to shoot a gun on your property unless zoned otherwise, but that sanction would come from them (land use) based on our report.”
The police report described the incident as non-criminal damage to property. But according to Sect. 24-1.5 of Illinois’ gun law, reckless discharge of a firearm, which endangers the bodily safety of an individual, is a Class 4 felony.
“I just don’t understand,” Debra Gaskin said. “They could have killed my son.”
Brian Stanley and Joe Biesk contributed