FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Law enforcement officers in St. Lucie County are amplifying their message to gun owners to lock up their weapons.
Port St. Lucie Assistant Police Chief Richard Del Toro said a stolen gun was used in a shooting that killed a 15-year-old Port St. Lucie High School student.
It was one of two stolen guns that Del Toro said both the shooter and the victim had in their possession.
The guns, according to Del Toro, were stolen out of St. Lucie County.
St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said that is why his agency often pushes out a message to gun owners in the community to secure their weapons in their homes and take them out of their vehicles.
"Valuables, especially guns left in your vehicle overnight, make you an easy target for crime," Chief Deputy Brian Hester can be heard saying in a video on the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office Facebook page.
One of the guns in the Port St. Lucie shooting incident was reported stolen from a car in the Indian River Estates community, likely the same day as the shooting.
Another gun was reported stolen out of a home near Airoso Boulevard and Prima Vista Boulevard. That is the weapon investigators said was mishandled and involved in the fatal shooting.
Port St. Lucie police said the 17-year-old shooting suspect and 15-year-old victim were riding in the back seat of a car together. Police said both were in possession of stolen weapons. The 17-year-old reached into a bag where one of the guns was located and, in that process, grabbed the trigger, unintentionally shooting the 15-year-old in the chest.
"This is exactly what we don't want to have happen with a stolen gun," Mascara said.
It's the worst-case scenario, Mascara said, that his agency tries to prevent.
"People get quite alarmed when their lawnmower gets stolen out of their shed, but then you magnify that with a gun that was stolen out of your car that was unlocked," Mascara said. "That's a dangerous situation."
The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office reports that in the last 12 months, 44 guns were reported stolen in 32 separate cases. Of those, 18 were taken out of vehicles, some of which were unlocked, Mascara said.
“In the last 12 months, we've had five car burglaries that the cars were unlocked, and all of those car burglaries had a gun in them," Mascara said. "So, there are five guns that are now on the street that we can presume, if the car was locked, maybe they wouldn't have made it to the streets."
Mascara said gun owners are legally required to safely secure guns that are inside their homes to where they are not accessible to minor children. Those laws do not expand to cars. That's why the agency turns to social media and meeting with residents and homeowner groups to warn them of the risks of failing to lock their cars or bring guns inside.