One round was loaded in the chamber and four more were in the tube of a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun that children at a city summer camp found hidden while playing outside at Santa Rosa’s Lincoln Elementary School, police detectives said Thursday.
Stashed inside metal grating at the base of a modular building at the school on West Ninth Street, the slender but heavy weapon had many of the characteristics of what detectives call a “hood gun” — a weapon stashed outside by gang members to keep at the ready for future confrontations.
“There’s no direct evidence to say that,” Santa Rosa Police Sgt. John Cregan said. “But experience tells us that’s exactly what it is.”
But who placed the gun on school grounds in close proximity to at least 100 children who play there each day, in addition to the neighbors who use adjacent Jacobs Park, remained unknown Thursday, police said.
The children found the shotgun while searching for marbles, police said.
With a sawed-off barrel, the shotgun is easier to conceal and rounds fired from a shorter barrel may spread out farther, potentially hitting more targets.
Detectives still were investigating whether any fingerprints or DNA possibly found on the weapon and its ammunition may lead to a suspect, although both the children and camp staff also touched the weapon, Cregan said. Police also were looking into the weapon’s serial number to track the gun’s ownership.
Although police know that “hood guns” are hidden in areas where gang members live and congregate, it’s fairly rare to find one, Cregan said.
“Usually they’re more well hidden,” he said. “They don’t want this to happen. That’s a valuable item to them.”
Gang members will stash guns, knives, bats and other weapons in bushes, on rooftops and even bury them under 4 or 5 inches of dirt. The goal is to keep weapons at the ready but still hidden from police. Taken during burglaries or purchased on the street, the weapons can quickly change hands, Cregan said.
“Gang members talk about placing these guns in vital areas,” Cregan said. “It prevents law enforcement from finding those guns when we search their houses. It makes it difficult to identify the owner.”
Three boys, ages 10, 12 and 13, found the weapon Tuesday after the camp program had ended. The boys were looking behind a metal grate at the base of the building where the summer camp’s activities take place, camp supervisor Mara Leon said. Police said the boys told a parent that evening, but they didn’t call police. The children told their camp counselors the next morning.
Police dispatched a gang detective along with patrol officers to the campus Wednesday morning after camp staff called police to report the discovery.
“It’s frightening, it’s alarming and it’s unacceptable to have kids find loaded weapons in a park,” said Khaalid Muttaqi, who heads the city’s gang prevention task force.
The gun’s discovery comes after a wave of gang-related crime near West Ninth Street led neighbors and city staff to refresh community involvement with public meetings and public events like barbecues.
In two weeks, Muttaqi said that his gang prevention team is planning a nighttime march in the neighborhood and daytime talent show at Jacobs Park. The events are part of the city’s Gang Prevention Awareness Week that begins the first week of August.