ABINGTON TOWNSHIP, Pa. (CBS) — The man seen walking through public property in Abington Township with an AR-15 slung across his back had his rifle confiscated is being held for an involuntary mental health evaluation in Norristown, according to police. Search warrants also show the man allegedly talked about shooting up a high school and college.
“I imagine in this environment where we’ve had a number of school shootings, a young man walking in the streets with an AR-15, it conjured up images of carnage,” said Abington Township Police Chief Patrick Molloy. “We can’t afford to get this wrong… we’re trying to balance the rights of our citizens with public safety and it’s really difficult.”
Molloy says while officers initially did not perceive the man as a threat, three friends later came forward with credible information that he may harm himself or others.
Search warrants obtained by Eyewitness News show the man told friends in June 2017 that he wanted to shoot up Abington High School then made similar comments about Penn State Abington in January. They also told police he often sent suicidal messages.
The affidavit also showed searches on the man’s cellphone, including “what guns were used in mass shootings,” “sandyhook,” and “how many mass shooters have fatherless homes” [sic].
The man does not live with his father, police say.
“That’s incredibly alarming,” one neighbor said regarding the Internet searches.
Eyewitness News is not identifying the man as he has not been criminally charged.
Police received multiple 911 calls after neighbors witnessed him walking with the rifle on Friday and again on Monday.
“As a parent, as a tax-paying citizen, it’s concerning. My kids play on this street, I walk my dog on this street and to have to think about running into that is not OK,” said Jennifer DeLuca, who lives near where the man had walked.
The act, though legal under Pennsylvania’s open carry laws, divided some witnesses about whether it was appropriate in light of recent mass shootings.
“He’s just a citizen exercising his right to carry an AR-15,” said Sheila Quinn, who says she saw the man walking with the rifle earlier in the week. “He wasn’t pointing it at anyone. I had no problem with that. But yes if he’s threatening, I have a problem with it.”
“I get that you have the right to bear arms but to be walking around public with an assault weapon of that nature is not OK to me,” said DeLuca.
Authorities recovered the gun and two fully loaded magazines from the man’s home. He is being held for a minimum of 72 hours at a mental health facility in Norristown.
“Thank God he’s getting the help he needs,” Quinn said.