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Tragedy due to toy gun narrowly averted

10/31/2013

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Any other time, Hays Police Chief Don Scheibler never would have given it another thought, the report of a Hays man in Halloween costume brandishing a toy pistol.

Until, that is, he learned of a weekend incident in California where a 13-year-old boy was killed when he turned to face officers. He was carrying a realistic replica of an assault rifle.

That's when Scheibler realized his department and the community just as easily could be reeling from a Halloween incident gone bad.

And that's why Scheibler is cautioning parents ready to take their children out trick-or-treating to leave realistic weapons behind.

It's a bit of advice he's offering for any other time of the year as well.

The Hays incident came early Sunday morning, when police were called to the report of a disturbance in the 700 block of Fort, essentially outside of the Wild Rose.

When the first officer arrived, he found a 36-year-old Hays man -- dressed in black slacks and a black vest, later found to represent a gangster costume -- pointing a semiautomatic handgun at the head of a man who was later determined to be 27 years old.

The two had apparently exchanged words inside the bar and the disagreement spilled out onto the city streets, where the handgun was brought out and police arrived after being called.

"They see a man with what appears to be a semiautomatic handgun pointed at the head of another man," Scheibler said.

The officer jumped from his cruiser, drew his service revolver and ordered the man brandishing the gun to drop his weapon.

"The person with the handgun immediately complied," Scheibler said. "That's when we found out that it was a fake handgun."

By immediately doing what the officer ordered, he said, a "terrible tragedy" was averted.

Scheibler said the call to the report of a disturbance set the scene for how officers would react once they arrived.

Seeing a man pointing a gun set in motion the training officers are given.

"The officer has a responsibility to protect that citizen," Scheibler said. "It would have been his job to protect the community and that citizen."

While there's no way to predict how the officer might ultimately have responded, had the man brandishing the toy refused to lower the pistol, he said the results could have been tragic.

"We were fortunate," Scheibler said. "He was prepared to do what needed to be done. He was prepared to do his job."

While Scheibler said he likely would have reacted the same way, he was unwilling to second-guess the officer.

"I'm pleased he complied with the officer," he said of the man immediately tossing the gun to the ground.

Scheibler went on to say the incident likely wouldn't have attracted too much attention until he saw the all-too-often report of an officer shooting a boy carrying a toy rifle.

With Halloween approaching, he realized the time was right to advise against parents allowing children to carry realistic looking guns as they trick-or-treat.

"I think if you're a parent and your child has a gun that looks very realistic, you need to make it look unrealistic," Scheibler said.