Two teens found in an abandoned building Tuesday in North Vernon were arrested for trespassing, but what the pair were carrying raised the most concern for police.
At the time they were caught, the 14-year-old and 16-year-old males, both of North Vernon, had three Airsoft replica weapons.
Two of the replica guns had been painted, camouflaging the orange safety tip, said Sgt. Andrew Richmond of the North Vernon Police Department.
This made their toy guns look more realistic, which can make it hard for officers to distinguish from the real ones, particularly in the dark or when viewed from afar, Richmond said.
The orange safety tip often is the only visual cue an officer might have to pause and determine if a firearm is real or not, he said.
“Police across the country have encountered these weapons with increasing frequency,” Richmond said. “Some of these encounters have had very tragic outcomes.”
In November, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by police in Cleveland when he reached for a toy gun on his waistband that police believed to be real.
About two months earlier, 22-year-old John Crawford was carrying a toy rifle in a store in Dayton, Ohio, when he was fatally shot by police.
Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott said it’s not uncommon for criminals to use weapon replicas like Airsoft guns or even BB guns. In addition, some companies manufacture guns in colors and prints, making them even more difficult to distinguish the difference.
“At first, they can look like real guns when it’s in the heat of the moment and it’s in the person’s hand,” Abbott said.
He referred to a string of armed robberies a few years ago in Seymour committed by a man using an Airsoft gun. That man was eventually arrested, Abbott said.
Richmond said North Vernon police officers went to the old Arvin Industries plant at 6:47 p.m. Tuesday after someone reported seeing people wearing hooded sweatshirts enter the building armed with firearms. That plant is in the area of Walnut, Buckeye and Fifth streets.
Police said the two teens tried to flee before they were arrested on the pending trespassing charges.
They were placed under house arrest to be supervised by their parents or guardians until they meet with a Jennings County juvenile probation officer, Richmond said.
The Airsoft guns were kept for evidence.
Abbott said around Oktoberfest, police usually receive multiple complaints about kids buying toy guns at flea markets and shooting each other, which can be dangerous during the crowded festival.
Abbott said he encourages parents to educate their kids about the dangers of not safely using toys guns or weapon replicas and to use them in a controlled, supervised environment.
Complying with the demands of police officers also will lessen any situation from becoming out of control, he said.
“If an officer tells you, ‘Do not reach or keep your hands out of your pocket,’ compliance would go a long way and would help to rid the threat or perception of threat,” Abbott said.