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By Archie Ingersoll, Forum Communications Co., Published February 24 2010

Grand Forks police try to trace prints, past of shotgun

As police try to solve the puzzle surrounding a loaded shotgun found concealed in the Grand Forks Herald’s downtown building, they’re focusing on two pieces: the gun’s past and any fingerprints left on it.

Detective Mike Flannery said Tuesday that a Grafton, N.D., man originally purchased the gun – a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun with a pistol grip and a short, single barrel – in the Grand Forks area in 1994. However, that man’s now dead, so police are trying to reach his relatives in hopes of tracing the gun to its current owner, he said.

Flannery, the main detective assigned to the case, said police determined the original owner by entering the gun’s serial number, make and model into a federal database that tracks gun sales made by businesses and licensed sellers. A check of FBI records showed the gun has not been reported stolen, he said.

Flannery said police hope to lift fingerprints off the gun. If successful, investigators would ask Herald employees who handled the gun after it was found to submit their prints; any fingerprints not eliminated would be run through a national database, he said.

The find

Employees cleaning a break room with kitchen facilities discovered the gun Monday tucked behind party supplies in a cabinet. The gun was inside a pillowcase and loaded with five slugs, or large solid bullets. Officers seized the gun and searched other common areas but uncovered no other suspicious items. It’s not known exactly when the gun was placed there, but employees went through the cabinet within the last six months.

The type of gun found is not typically used for hunting, but more commonly for self-defense or law enforcement. “This particular brand of shotgun, there were many, many of them manufactured,” said Lt. Rahn Farder, who heads the police department’s investigations bureau.

Because the gun was found in an area that was accessible to employees and sometimes to the public, police said they have many potential suspects. Farder said detectives are conducting “routine” interviews, but would not offer specifics.

“We’ve got some things we can follow-up on, but I wouldn’t say we have a person of interest,” Farder said.

Nothing like it

Flannery, who’s been an officer in Grand Forks for 37 years, couldn’t recall a case similar to this one, in which a loaded gun was found hidden in a workplace. He said it’s rare but not unheard of for guns to be found outside in Grand Forks, particularly in snow banks.

Though the Herald has a policy barring employees from bringing weapons to work, police can’t say if an actual crime can be linked to the gun without knowing who stashed it and why. Flannery said the person’s intentions may or may not have been malicious.

“I don’t know what the explanation could be, but it might be a valid one,” he said. “It could just be, you know, a real bad judgment call.”

“If we don’t have a crime, this guy will get his weapon back.”

Flannery said he devoted all of Tuesday to the case and plans to work on it today and Thursday. “I am optimistic. I’m not overly optimistic,” he said. “We haven’t hit a dead end yet.”

‘A good sign’

In response to finding the gun, the newspaper has posted an armed guard at the entrance of 375 Second Ave. N. and is requiring people to enter and exit the building through the front door and to identify themselves upon entering. Publisher and Editor Mike Jacobs met with employees Monday and told them to watch for anything suspicious.

“My sense is that there is still a level of apprehension,” Jacobs said of his staff’s mood Tuesday. “It was, of course, a shocking invasion, and people have had to process it.”

Despite some anxiety, he said, employees were able to do their work and, in some cases, see lighter sides of the situation.

“I think that people were able to laugh and joke,” he said. “That’s a good sign.”


Archie Ingersoll is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.