PANAMA CITY Fla Aug 1 2011 — He had a bigger and better gun than most SWAT team members, a formidable bulletproof vest and more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition, officials said last week
And if the man believed to be behind a recent murder-suicide had turned his eye toward the public, the consequences would have been uncalculable.
“We’re talking Norway or Fort Hood,” Maj. Tommy Ford said. “The capability was there to cause catastrophic death.”
Investigators said 50-year-old Galen Scott Suppes, a former prison guard, shot and killed his neighbor, 19-year-old Christopher James Ballard, shortly before killing himself July 23. Deputies were called out to the scene July 24 after Suppes’ family informed them that something was amiss.
When deputies searched his apartment, they found several items of concern, Ford said. They found a Springfield MIA SOCOM .308 with 36 magazines and a scope that could grant a decent shooter the ability to hit someone from 350 to 400 yards away.
“They would have stopping power out past that, but the accuracy wouldn’t be there,” Ford added.
The equipment allowed a shooter the ability to hang dozens of magazines on the vest and in their pockets. The magazines each hold 20 rounds, Ford said. That would mean regular law enforcement officers and SWAT team members would have a hard time taking a suspect down while he or she was trying to reload, Ford said.
“We would have been at a severe disadvantage had we interrupted the events of that evening,” Ford said.
Deputies also found Suppes had an embroidered black and white hat labeled “sheriff.” And while he was once a prison guard and, according to his family, served in the military, there is no indication Suppes ever worked at a sheriff’s office, Ford said.
“You can buy them at the mall,” Ford said of the hat.
Several times over the past few years local law enforcement officers have arrested imposters. It’s something they take seriously, Ford said.
“I guess anytime we see it happen it erodes the safety factor people should feel when they are dealing with law enforcement,” Ford said.
Then there was the body armor; it was thick enough to defeat rifle rounds, Ford said.
Ford and Sheriff Frank McKeithen stressed they wanted the public to know what law enforcement officers may face while on the job but do not support any change to the right of American citizens to bear arms.
“The sheriff is a big believer in the right to keep and bear arms and gun ownership,” Ford said. “It’s not the gun; it’s the people we may face.”
However, Ford did note that it is hard to get someone declared mentally incompetent and unable to purchase a gun. The court proceedings usually happen long after law enforcement and family members become aware of the problem, Ford said.
Ford suggested that members of the public should call law enforcement if they have a problem with their neighbor but only in the right circumstances.
“If they have a concern about a neighbor’s actions,” they should call, Ford said. “It’s his right to have a rifle.”