Soccer Field Near Miss Revives Issue of Shooting on Town Land

After a near miss at a soccer practice at West Road Fields, parents and coaches are saying the Town needs to pass an ordinance limiting shooting on town properties – before it’s too late.

When soccer coaches Brian Sprague and Alex Turek heard gunshots in the area of the power lines halfway through their soccer practice the evening of Oct. 25, they thought it was a hunter. But someone near the closest electrical tower started discharging bullets rapidly, leading the coaches to think it may have been an automatic weapon.

“We heard a whistling sound, and one of the parents screamed at us that the bullets were going over our heads,” Turek said.

“Get down! Get the kids down,” Turek said a parent screamed. “I heard bullets hitting trees just adjacent to the fields, about 100 feet from the kids. We could hear the shots, then hear several bullets screaming across the field. It was pretty terrifying.

“I yelled into the woods, ‘hold your fire, there are kids here,’” he said.

Turek said the bullets continued.

He yelled again, more loudly, to the shooter that there were children on the fields, and the shooting stopped.

Police were called, but were unable to locate a shooter.

“I did see someone right after the shooting stopped and showed the police approximately where he was standing. We had the field lights on when it happened, so it should have been obvious that we were at the field,” Sprague said in an email. “I don’t think they were purposely shooting at us, but I do think that they came very close with many random shots in various directions. There were at least 50 to 60 shots and many of them were rapid fire. We all heard whistling sounds, and then all the kids hit the deck and hid in the corner out of sight.”

One parent with military experience identified a potential shooting location and suggested it was possible the target had been a sign near the soccer field.

When Sprague checked the orange sign, he found a bullet hole through it.

Police Chief Bill Hart said even if police had located a suspect, without an ordinance on the books restricting shooting on town properties, it’s unlikely they could have prosecuted any charges against the shooter. Still, Hart and other officers met with the coaches and parents to gather the details of the incident.

“At this point it’s unclear what crime may have been committed, if not reckless conduct,” Hart said, noting shooting in the area the coaches thinks the shots were coming from is not prohibited. “Clearly this is a concern, and it was frightening to the kids and parents.”

Hart said the incident should be considered as part of the Town’s ongoing discussion about target shooting on town properties.

One Sept. 14, the Town Council approved with a 4-0 vote an ordinance restricting target shooting in the Musquash Conservation Area. Those in violation face a $100 fine for a first-time offense.

“I would think the people who are interested in the danger of target shooting in the Musquash would be interested in this,” Sprague said.

The Council approved the ordinance on a trial basis, during which time the Police Department is working to educate the public about the new regulations and is beginning to enforce the ordinance.

Members of the shooting community have maintained there are a small number of people participating in unsafe shooting, compared with the much larger hunting and shooting community.

The new ordinance, originally drafted by the Musquash Task Force, specifically targets shooters who do not have any training or follow safe procedures.

Additionally, the ordinance extends the protective shooting radius for discharging a firearm from 300 feet to 600 feet and establishes caliber restrictions equivalent to those allowed for hunting deer and turkey, with no center fire and no additional allowances for specified long rifles.

Still, some members of the hunting and shooting community find the ordinance too restrictive, arguing conservation areas in Londonderry have a long tradition of being used for hunting and shooting; and that to date, there haven’t been any incidents of a recreationist being shot by a hunter or target shooter.

At the Town’s Deliberative Session in February, the voters will have an opportunity to move the ordinance as written, or amended, to the March ballot if they choose.

Sprague and Turek said after the incident at the soccer fields, they hope to see a more comprehensive ordinance limiting shooting activity on town properties to prevent another near miss, or worse.

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