The actions of a small-town gun store owner helped police short-circuit what they believe was a Syracuse University student’s plan to commit a mass shooting.
As a result, Xiaoteng Zhan, 22, was deported to his home country of China last month, according to Syracuse.com. Police did not reveal the incident had taken place until Friday.
In early March, Zhan visited The Gun Store in the Madison County town of Nelson, population 1,980, shop owner John Laubscher told Syracuse.com. The town is about 15 miles from Syracuse. Laubscher said Zhan wanted an AR-15.
“When we explained to him the limitations on AR’s that you can get in New York, he jumped right from that to a shotgun, and then his interest was in the highest capacity shotgun that we had,” he told CNY Central.
According to Laubscher, Zhan had a hunting license, which is required for non-citizens to buy a gun, but it was out of season and Zhan expressed his lack of knowledge about the gun. He told the shop owner he would take a gun safety course at Syracuse University to learn how to use the weapon.
That was further proof for the already-skeptical Laubscher that something was wrong.
“When was the last time you heard of a tactical shotgun class at SU?” Laubscher said.
I met with The Gun Shop owner John Laubscher today. He’s the man who called police after former SU student Xiaoteng Zhan came looking for an assault rifle.
— Katrina Tulloch (@katrinatulloch) April 6, 2018
Laubscher described Zhan as “on the edge” and said his lack of understanding about guns made him stand out.
“It’s not like a grocery store where you pick a few things up and leave,” Laubscher said. “We’re a pro shop — we’re more of an experience.”
As a result of his concerns, Laubscher refused to sell Zhan a gun.
Before Zhan left, Laubscher copied his license number and contacted police, for fear that Zhan might have been contemplating a mass shooting.
“This guy was ready, very close to it,” he said.
Thank you to the gun shop owner John Laubscher for being so vigilant on this!!! Thank you to the authorities that followed through so nothing awful happened!!
— Hanksmom (@Hanksmom) April 6, 2018
Syracuse Deputy Police Chief Derek McGork said while police were investigating Zhan, the student flew off to Mexico for his spring break. While he was gone, a worker at the apartment complex where Zhan lived discovered a quantity of ammunition in the student’s room and alerted police.
Police then learned that Zhan had been communicating with friends about a shooting
“I might use the gun to cause trouble. I have been preparing,” one message said, according to McGork.
A friend who asked Zhan not to kill either her or children received the reply, “You’re the only one I don’t want to kill,” McGork said.
“We know that he made threats towards other people, unspecified, so it’s unclear if it would be made for Syracuse University,” McGork said, according to Spectrum News.
As a result, police obtained a search warrant and found ammunition, a laser scope and other items in his apartment. That, coupled with witness accounts of Zhan’s mental state, was enough to get an involuntary order to commit Zhan.
However, Syracuse University acted in the meantime to withdraw Zhan’s status as a student, which meant his visa to study in the U.S. was no longer valid. So, when he returned from spring break on March 20, officials deported him.
Laubscher said that the episode was unnerving.
“I have a very uneasy feeling that this could have happen in our hometown, here in Syracuse. It could happen right anywhere, but the fact that it could happen right here is scary,” he said.
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