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Boise mall shooter violated federal gun laws, but nothing happened – until he killed

Oct. 26, 2022 Updated Wed., Oct. 26, 2022 at 8:41 p.m.

In this file photo, police collect evidence in a parking lot after the Oct. 25, 2021, shooting in Boise.  (Tribune News Service)
In this file photo, police collect evidence in a parking lot after the Oct. 25, 2021, shooting in Boise. (Tribune News Service)
By Scott McIntosh Idaho Statesman Idaho Statesman

The man who shot and killed two people at the Boise Towne Square mall a year ago and injured others before killing himself while surrounded by police was prohibited by federal laws from possessing a firearm.

But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives didn’t reach that conclusion until after Jacob Bergquist had gone on his fatal shooting spree, even though local police had notified ATF about Bergquist five months before the shooting.

“ATF did receive information concerning Jacob Bergquist’s possession of firearms from local law enforcement and ATF did look into whether or not he was prohibited federally from possessing firearms,” Jason Chudy, ATF public information officer, wrote in an emailed statement to the Idaho Statesman. “It was determined that he was prohibited from possessing firearms, but that was only confirmed after the Boise shooting had occurred.”

Bergquist was convicted in 2012 in Cook County, Illinois, of theft of more than $300, a Class 3 felony, punishable by 2-5 years in prison. Because such a conviction carries a sentence exceeding one year, it barred him from possessing firearms under the federal Gun Control Act of 1968. However, under Idaho law, theft is not a corresponding crime that is included on a list that can get you banned from possessing a firearm.

But he was still in violation of federal gun laws, and it’s clear that Bergquist was the kind of person who should not have had a gun.

He proved it on Oct. 25, 2021, killing security guard Jo Acker and shopper Roberto Padilla Arguelles, and injuring several others.

And the warning signs were there.

In the months before the Boise mall shooting, Bergquist had multiple run-ins with local and state police agencies, and the Boise Police Department on May 12, 2021, forwarded a police report to ATF about Bergquist, calling into question his right to possess firearms.

“At this time, it is undetermined if Bergquist is a prohibited possessor based on the reading of the Idaho State Code and in addition to his criminal history … ” according to the police report. “Request the case be reviewed by the Ada County Prosecutor’s office for determination of his firearm rights in addition to the report being forwarded to the ATF for screening of any Federal firearm violations.”

The Boise Police Department forwarded that report to the ATF and the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

At least five months passed without any apparent action being taken against Bergquist.

“We receive information from law enforcement agencies through a number of avenues, including in person or via phone call, or email, or other official reporting methods,” according to the ATF statement. “We receive reports of the illegal use, manufacture or possession of firearms frequently, so we would not characterize this as atypical. … ATF can, and does, investigate and take appropriate action, when necessary, on information received from a local law enforcement agency.”

That’s little comfort to Tiffany Luna, the sister of Jo Acker.

“I’m sure the ATF is busy, but why did it take from May until the end of October? And they never did anything,” Luna said in a phone interview. “They never tried to step in and do anything. And this guy was making some pretty scary public videos on YouTube. You would think that they would do something like a formal investigation and step in and maybe monitor him more heavily.”

Luna said she hasn’t been to a mall since the shooting, fearful even to let her children go.

A year later, Luna still breaks down talking about Acker.

“She was such a fierce protector,” Luna said. “I could call her at any time and tell her a problem I was having, and she would want to come and fix it for me. And now I can’t do that. She’ll never meet my son. She’ll never see her daughter grow up.”

Police run-ins

Police and members of the public repeatedly raised concerns about Bergquist’s behavior, according to a previous article detailing dispatch records about Bergquist. Police responded to calls about the 27-year-old at a local Walmart, a hospital and at the Boise Towne Square mall – and even after Boise police had forwarded their report to ATF.

In March last year, Meridian police confronted a belligerent Bergquist at a Walmart, where he was open carrying. In April, Idaho State Police monitored Bergquist inside the Capitol, where he sought an audience with Gov. Brad Little to advocate for allowing people like him to have weapons in Idaho.

In late April and early May, Boise police had multiple contacts with Bergquist, causing Boise Police Officer Zach Powell to file his report about Bergquist on May 12, 2021.

“Based on Bergquist’s self identification as a felon, I began a query into his prohibited possessor status and if that applied to his rights as a gun owner,” according to the report.

Boise police redacted the rest of that paragraph.

Boise police located Bergquist’s YouTube channel, “Guns N Rodents,” which was devoted to gun culture and showed “very racist” attitudes toward Central Americans, according to police. Police noted he talked in his videos about being a felon and still being able to carry.

Powell’s report also noted that Bergquist had been in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he also came into contact with police and a state senator, trying to repeal a law that prohibited felons from possessing firearms.

It was that report that was forwarded to ATF.

Even after ATF came into possession of it, police continued to miss opportunities to do something about Bergquist.

On June 17, someone reported that Bergquist had entered the mall with a gun holstered on his hip and two ammo magazines “strapped to his back,” according to previous reporting by the Idaho Statesman.

On June 28, a caller reported a man, later identified as Bergquist, open-carrying a firearm on his hip and trying to enter a building on the Saint Alphonsus campus in Boise, according to the article. Firearms are not allowed on the Saint Al’s campus.

Still, nothing was done about Bergquist.

“He seemed more dangerous than the attention he was given,” Luna said. “Instead, the police made multiple contacts with this gentleman, and then it was too late to do anything.”

Unanswered questions after Boise mall shootingWhy did it take so long for ATF to figure out Bergquist shouldn’t have had a gun? Even if the agency had made that determination earlier, what would it have done?

Why didn’t local police do anything to stop him?

How did Bergquist get his gun, a Heckler and Koch VP9, a 9 mm handgun, with at least one 20-round magazine that he emptied and left on the floor at the mall? Had the purchase gone through a background check, as required of a licensed firearms dealer, the purchase should have been denied by the FBI because of Bergquist’s felony conviction.

It’s worth asking these questions and pursuing these answers so that we can figure out solutions and prevent another tragedy.

“We were kind of hoping that things would change in the respect that when you have multiple police contacts with an individual who is scaring people in public places – Walmart, the mall, multiple different locations,” Luna said. “We kind of hoped that maybe something would change, so that when those people call the police, that the police can actually do something about it and stop that individual from terrorizing people before it gets to this point.

“And I think it’s a little bit disappointing that nothing has happened in that regard.”

It’s hard to escape the sense that something more should have been done about Bergquist.

It seems as if the worship of the Second Amendment as being absolute by many Americans, and the fear that we would “take someone’s guns away,” have made us lose all common sense.

Can we learn anything from the Boise Towne Square shooting? Can we figure out how to keep guns out of the hands of people like Bergquist and possibly prevent the next shooting?

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