Police Battle Violent Crimes Committed by Teens With Guns

Police Battle Violent Crimes Committed by Teens With Guns


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Crime Specialist Karen Scullin reportingIn the last four months, a police officer has been shot and killed by a 17-year-old boy. And another 17-year-old allegedly tracked down a rival gang member and killed him.

Young teens armed with guns seem to be commonplace in Utah, but where do they get guns at such an early age?

Gang cops say kids and guns are something they're used to. While many of us think of 13- or 14-year-olds as children, cops say when they're armed, they're as dangerous as any adult.

And you might be surprised to find out where they get the weapons, and ultimately, who is connected to the young, armed and dangerous.

Just 15 years old -- armed and ready to kill.

"They were all in high school and out of high school and I was only in the 9th grade and they wanted to (mess) with me, so I was going to let them have it," says a parolee named Phil.

He got his first gun when he was 13. He stashed it in his bedroom. His parents never knew.

"We had an S.K.S., we had a shotgun in my home in the basement and my homeboy's all drunk and picked it up, like oh, he dropped it, went out the window and shrapnel hit my neck," Phil says.

These guns used to be in the grips of gang members -- many of them teenagers.

The Metro Gang Unit pulled them off the kids, along with this tech-9 taken from a 14-year-old.

"He was armed with a tech-9 assault rifle, it's one that actually has been banned from being imported here in the United States. It had a 32 round magazine in it. It was charged, battery in it and ready to go," says Detective Saul Bailey with the Metro Gang Unit.

Here in Utah between January and September of last year, juveniles, or those under the age of 18, committed 327 aggravated assaults, 41 robberies, 43 rapes, and five murders or negligent murders -- many of the 416 crimes committed with a gun.

One of them not yet included in those statistics is the murder of West Jordan Police Officer Ron Wood. He was shot and killed in the line of duty by 17-year-old Justin Van Roekal, who turned the gun on himself.

Investigators say Van Roekal got the gun from his friend, Tyler Atwood. Atwood allegedly got it from gang member Michael Sathaphan, who got the weapon from an unidentified gang member, who reportedly was given the gun from two gangsters who ripped off a bunch of guns from a pawn shop in Vernal.

What's really disturbing are the young gangsters committing burglaries that turn legal guns illegal. Police say quite often, the guns in your home originally bought to protect you and your family end up arming Utah teenagers.

"Just pull up to a house, look like no one's home. Pop, pop, pop, pop, knock on the door. Someone answers, say 'so and so here.' If not, kick that door in and go in," says Phil.

He says most of the guns are there for the taking in closets or nightstands, often loaded and ready to fire.

"I'll tell you what a lot of people have told me. In the middle of the night, when someone's in your house with a gun with a trigger lock on it, it's just a brick. They want to get to that weapon. They want to be able to use that weapon immediately," says Tony Brown with AP&P.

A report by the ATF shows that across the U.S., one in three firearms used by juveniles in committing violent crimes were taken in burglaries they committed. Twenty-five percent were given to the juvenile, and 21 percent were purchased on the street.

"They can get a gun quicker than we can as police officers," Bailey says.

Phil says he's had about 30 guns since he first joined a gang 10 years ago. None of them are legal. Although he claims to want to get away from a life of gunfire, he says even after time in a jail cell he'd rather be caught with a gun than without one.

"If somebody's messing with me, I don't know. I'm not going to get a gun unless absolutely necessary, like my life's in danger or somebody I love's life's in danger, then I would," Phil says.

It's important to note, there are new programs aimed at getting guns off the street and away from juveniles. Police and guns rights advocates have called for stiffer penalties for crimes committed with stolen guns.

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