VADNAIS HEIGHTS, Minn.—The Vadnais Heights father of a 13-year-old boy who reportedly threatened a classmate had a machine gun and a short-barreled shotgun — both illegal — among several other firearms discovered at his home last week, authorities said.
Christopher Lloyd Stowe; his wife, Lisa Stowe; and their son all face criminal charges after police responded to a reported threat at a Maplewood school in the Twin Cities area last week.
The 41-year-old father faces two felony-level counts of prohibited possession of a machine gun and short-barreled shotgun and a third count of negligent storage of firearms, according to the criminal complaint filed against him Monday, March 5, in Ramsey County District Court. The latter charge is a gross misdemeanor.
Christopher Stowe was released without bail Monday after a brief appearance in court on conditions he doesn't possess firearms and remains law-abiding.
After the hearing, Christopher Stowe's attorney Sam Surface told the media that the couple are "very good people."
"They are hardworking people, they both have jobs. ... They are normal, everyday Minnesotans," Surface said.
Asked about the impact of last month's school shooting in Florida on the case, Surface said he thought the matter would hinge more on search and seizure issues than gun rights.
"I don't think this is a litmus test case for (gun rights) even though guns are involved," Surface said.
Christopher Stowe's next court appearance is scheduled for March 13.
Lisa Stowe also was charged Monday afternoon by the Vadnais Heights city attorney with one count of gross-misdemeanor-level negligent storage of a firearm. She was also released Monday without bail after a court appearance.
The couple's son was charged with one felony count of threats of violence.
Alleged school threat
Ramsey County sheriff deputies went to the family's home on Thursday, March 1, after receiving a report that a 13-year-old boy had told another student that he planned to kill him and that he had a list with names of other students he also intended to kill, the complaint said.
When deputies questioned the juvenile about his comments, the teen said he hadn't meant them and that he would never do something like that again, authorities say.
Deputies also spoke to the child's mother, who said at the time that the teen didn't have access to firearms and that there were none inside their house, according to the complaint.
Investigators then got a search warrant.
Numerous weapons confiscated
The boy was home alone when deputies arrived Friday, March 2, to execute the warrant. They found numerous firearms at the residence, the complaint said.
Several of the firearms were loaded and left out in the open, authorities said. Two of the weapons also met the definition for machine guns and a short-barreled shotgun — both illegal in Minnesota, the complaint said.
Investigators also found possible explosive devices in the house, as well as several trigger kits hidden in the home's ceiling, legal documents said.
The kits "appeared to be conversion kits for converting weapons to automatic weapons," the complaint said.
Before the search, Christopher Stowe told an investigator that he had guns in the house and that they belonged to him, the complaint said.
He reportedly requested an attorney after being pressed for more information.
A Ramsey County sheriff's office spokeswoman, Becqi Sherman, said a parent of a student reported the threat to them.
Jessica Pigg, who said her son was threatened, told KSTP-TV she called the school, and an administrator downplayed the issue. The school is on spring break, and the executive director could not be reached for comment Monday.
"It could've been a tragedy," Pigg told KSTP-TV. "... They're in charge of our children's safety, and they neglected to keep children ... out of danger."
It was an inappropriate joke
Mark Stowe, the teen's grandfather and Christopher Stowe's father, said the incident began when his grandson, who he said has autism, and some other kids were watching an episode of the show "Family Guy" that dealt with violence.
After a friend asked him if he'd ever use a gun, Mark Stowe said his grandson made an inappropriate joke.
Mark Stowe said such conduct needs to be taken seriously, particularly in light of the recent school shooting in Florida. But he believes the school handled it appropriately by notifying parents and suspending his grandson for two days.
He also approved of the sheriff's office's decision to send a deputy to the home to talk to his grandson about what happened. But things took an unnecessary turn when the office decided to execute a search warrant, he said.
"This is a bad, over-the-top reaction to an incident," Mark Stowe said. "This is all staging for (Sheriff Jack Serier) to get into national headlines."
The guns found inside the house are part of a collection, Mark Stowe said. Although there may have been one or two firearms that were loaded and outside of a safe in the house, Mark Stowe said they were still hidden away and not easily accessible to children.
He added that his grandchildren have grown up around guns and understand gun safety. He said he had been using the equipment found to modify firearms to help him alter some of his firearms so he would have better control of them during target practice.
Will case turn political?
Serier, who was appointed sheriff by the Ramsey County board of commissioners last year, is running for the job in November.
His challenger, Mike Martin, criticized Serier's handling of a news conference about the Vadnais Heights case on Friday. Martin said he is concerned the public statements "undermine the integrity of this case."
Martin said anyone who possesses guns without the proper licenses should be held accountable, but he wrote in an open letter Monday: "The interim sheriff exploited this situation for political reasons and to create 'good press' for himself. In the process, he stigmatized a family and special needs child, failed to provide the care an autistic child needed, and tainted any evidence needed for prosecution."
Sherman of the sheriff's office said Monday, "there's nothing further to comment on" and referred additional questions to prosecutors.
Dawn Metcalf, a neighbor who picked up Christopher Stowe from jail, said she hopes this incident can serve as a "teaching moment."
"Rather than persecute a normal family," Metcalf said she hopes what happened will serve as an important reminder that "if you have minor children in your house, you need to store (guns) safely."
As far as the juvenile, Metcalf said his parents have been "worried sick" about him as all three spent the weekend separately in custody.
Mara H. Gottfried contributed to this report.