No charges yet for six who 'terrorized' BWCAW campers
Duluth News Tribune - 08/21/2007
Campers in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness used cell phones to call authorities on the night of Aug. 7, saying they were terrorized by men firing shots from motorboats. Some told officers they feared for their lives and hid in the woods.
Six suspects in two boats apparently were involved in the incident.
Lake County Sheriff’s deputies responded with law enforcement officers from the U.S. Forest Service and Ely Police Department. Two men were arrested and taken into custody at the Fall Lake boat landing north of Ely as officers waited in the dark for the suspects to leave the wilderness. They were released within 36 hours.
Two firearms were taken as evidence.
No formal charges have been filed against any of the suspects in the incident on Basswood Lake, the Lake County attorney’s office said Monday.
The case is under review by County Attorney Russ Conrow and charges could be leveled later this week, the office said.
Four other people, including a juvenile, also are expected to be charged. All were Ely-area residents. The investigation and prosecution are being handled by Lake County.
One of the suspects arrested told the News Tribune on Monday that his attorney advised him not to comment on the case. The News Tribune generally doesn’t name suspects until they have been formally charged.
Officers returned to the scene the next morning to gather testimony and evidence, and several other groups of campers reported being threatened by the armed suspects.
There’s evidence the men may have crossed illegally onto the Canadian side of Basswood Lake with a handgun, which is a violation of Canadian federal law whether the guns were fired or not.
Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson said the suspects appeared under the influence of alcohol at the time. He said the threats appeared random and that there’s no reason to suspect any more harassment of BWCAW campers.
“It was a mixture of alcohol and stupidity,’’ Johnson said. “This wasn’t a case were they went up there targeting anyone or planning to do something to someone. But when circumstances presented, they acted in the wrong way.’’
Guns are allowed in the federally managed Superior National Forest and in the BWCAW, and hunters each fall pursue grouse, moose and deer in the wilderness. But state laws on hunting and firearms discharge apply.
“You can’t endanger people; you can’t be reckless. You have to follow laws as far as how you use the firearm,’’ said Kris Reichenbach, spokeswoman for the Superior National Forest. “But this went way beyond being reckless or being a nuisance. This got to the point of a safety issue where people were threatened.’’
Johnson said lucky cell-phone coverage at Basswood Lake enabled officers to guess where the suspects would leave the BWCAW.
“If we hadn’t received those calls, we probably wouldn’t have been able to put this together as well. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to apprehend them so quickly,’’ Johnson said.
Reichenbach said the Forest Service warns people not to depend on cell phones to bail them out of trouble in the BWCAW. Campers should be prepared to handle medical and other emergencies on their own — that’s part of the wilderness tradition. Moreover, cell phone coverage is spotty to nonexistent in some areas.
“That’s still what we tell people, not to depend on them to get you out of a situation. But in this case it appears they may have helped speed up the response,’’ Reichenbach said.
Gunplay is not a common problem in the 1.1 million-acre BWCAW. There was a smaller incident of gunfire during which people felt threatened a couple of years ago, Reichenbach said.
Photo: Unarmed yet likely intoxicated (and maybe stupid) potential camper harassers head for their trusty pontoon (not really...although some camper harassment has taken place from this very pontoon!).