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Gun range comes under fire from neighbors

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:09 AM

Officials said a group of police officers from Grand Valley State University were training at the club Thursday morning when some of their bullets apparently traveled about a half-mile east into the subdivision, striking a contractor and some of the homes.

University officials said they are fully cooperating in the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department’s investigation into the incident, but declined further comments.

Jeremey Wilder, one of the residents whose home was hit by a bullet earlier this year, read a letter asking the board to completely shut down “all use of the rifle and pistol range until a full investigation by the Ottawa County Sheriff is complete.”

He was acting as one of the spokespersons for a group of neighbors who had met at his home the previous night.

Wilder said he discovered the bullet hole in the siding above the garage door about six months ago and thought it was from one of his children using a slingshot. Once he heard about the man being injured at a neighbor’s house, he investigated further and found a bullet lodged in the board underneath the siding.

Police were initially contacted Thursday morning after a contractor working at a house on Acacia Street went to the hospital with a bullet wound. His supervisor, who asked not to be identified, said the man was hit in the arm and was doing well.

During Monday’s meeting, OCSD Undersheriff Greg Steigenga told the crowd that officers had searched the area, as well as responded to neighbors calls, once the incident was reported. He said the investigation was expected to be completed by Wednesday, then turned over to the Ottawa County prosecuting attorney’s office. Once the prosecutor is done addressing the case, the report would be available through the Freedom of Information Act, Steigenga said.

Earlier in the day Monday, Lori Wilder pointed out that the bullet that struck their house hit in the area of their bedroom.

“A little higher (and) it could have been in our bedroom,” she said. “A little lower, it could have hit our cars or one of our kids.”

The Wilders have lived in the subdivision for eight years. Lori said their children are older and are handling the situation OK; but other children are asking if it is safe to play outside, while others are scared and having nightmares.

“We feel really fortunate right now that we’re not dealing with a tragedy,” Lori Wilder said.

Another neighbor, Rick Blazer, asked for assurance from the Rod and Gun Club Board that the club wouldn’t open the range before meeting with the Cutter Park neighbors.

Mark Welch, president of the gun club board, told those attending Monday’s meeting that the board was concerned about everyone’s safety; and would keep the rifle and pistol range closed until further notice, pending the investigation.

He noted that a popular monthly event had been canceled Saturday, almost without notice.

Monday afternoon, Welch said that the club becomes very busy because they have sight-in days for hunters a couple of weeks before gun season opens on Nov. 15.

“It’s a busy couple of weeks,” he said. “We usually have extra safety people out there.”

Welch also explained to the group that the trap and skeet shooting areas are separate from the rifle and pistol range because they are located farther from the subdivision, and the guns have a much shorter range. This area has also been closed pending the investigation.

Gun club officials confirmed after the meeting that the skeet and trap ranges will re-open on Wednesday. The hours of operation are Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5-9 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The outdoor (rifle and pistol) ranges remain closed.

The board was asked if any modifications had been made to the club since the ranges were constructed.

Welch said several modifications had been made to the facilities since the range was built in the late 1960s to early 1970s.

Board member Ethan Barnett said the most recent improvement had been a grading of the rifle range so that the target was 7 feet lower than where the shooters were standing.

Barnett noted this was not in response to any specific incident, but to make things safer.

At the end of the meeting, Jeremey Wilder said: “Personally I would like to see the outdoor rifle and pistol range enclosed or moved to a different location.”

Welch said the board would review the reports before making any determination on what needed to be done.

“While we used to be in splendid isolation, that is no longer the case,” Welch said about the gun club’s location near the subdivision.

Construction for the Cutter Park subdivision began about 12 years ago.

The gun club is on 160th Avenue, off Ferris Street. The Cutter Park subdivision is about a half-mile to the east, located between Ferris and Lincoln streets.

To see more photos from the meeting, click here.

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