Capt. Jeff Markland and Sheriff Chris Mathes with the 46 guns and ammunition recovered. (John Thompson/Johnson City Press)
In a Monday morning news conference, Sheriff Chris Mathes identified one of the teens as Joshua Wade Ray, 18, 132 Dogtown Road. The other teen was 17 and his case is in Juvenile Court. His name was not released at this time. Mathes said he is working to have the juvenile charged as an adult. Both teens were charged with aggravated burglary and theft over $10,000.
The sheriff’s department also recovered 46 guns and some of the ammunition stolen in the burglary. Mathes said some of the recovered guns were not a part of the Blue Springs burglary.
“We have identified guns taken from two other burglaries,” he said. Some of the guns taken in the Blue Springs burglary were not found among the recovered weapons.
“I want to thank the men and women of this department who on this case for the past two weeks. This was a serious case and they worked many hours,” Mathes said. “I also want to thank the agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.”
Mathes said the investigators were aided by tips from the public, which led them in the right direction.
“We were able to infiltrate their circle and that led to the purchase of one of the guns,” Mathes said.
The burglary was reported to the Carter County Sheriff’s Department by Moira Joan Oliver, wife of gun store owner Melvin Oliver. She told Deputy Brady Higgins that she and her husband went to different churches Dec. 1. Mrs. Oliver said she left around 9:30 a.m. and when she returned around noon, she found the garage door open.
Mrs. Oliver said when she went inside, she noticed the gun cabinets had been emptied and all the handguns were missing. She then went outside and waited for her husband to return.
Oliver said when he went into his office, he noticed most of the shotguns and rifles were missing from where they had been placed on the walls. He noticed the faceplate on the front of his safe had been torn off and approximately $1,000 in cash and checks were missing.
Investigator James Stevens responded to the scene and found pry marks on the rear door and the lock. He also processed the scene by collecting photos and attempting to lift fingerprints.
Stevens said he received a tip Dec. 3 that Josh Ray committed the burglary.
A week later, on Dec. 10, Stevens received a tip that he could possibly arrange a buy on the stolen firearms. He said the purchase was arranged later that day. One of the stolen firearms, a .45-caliber Taurus 1911 pistol, was sold for $200. The gun shop valued the gun at $575. The purchase was made at the Lynnwood Apartments complex.
On Dec. 13, the undercover officers arranged another buy and they were able to buy six more weapons for $1,000. After the buy, officers followed Ray and another person as they traveled on Riverview Road in a black Mercedes-Benz sedan. The officers stopped the vehicle and found Ray in the driver’s seat. He was searched an officers reported he was in possession of five of the $100 bills used in the sting. The passenger had four of the $100 bills.
Ray was taken to the Carter County Sheriff’s Department, where he reportedly confessed to the Blue Springs Gun Shop burglary. He then reportedly took officers to A-1 Storage on U.S. Highway 19E, where he turned over the other firearms.
Gun shop owner Oliver said he remembered the two teens coming into his shop. He believes the purchase of ammunition was the way they were able to discover where he kept the store’s cash.
“It was early in the day and they gave me a $100 bill,” Oliver said. He had to go to the cash drawer in order to make change at that time of the day. During the burglary, he said that was the only drawer broken into.
Oliver said he was pleased the guns are back in safe hands.
“You hate for them to take your merchandise and use it to harm someone,” he said.
Mathes agreed. “Legitimate people are not paying $75 for a $500 to $600 gun,” the sheriff said. “They were trying to move these guns quickly.” He asked anyone who purchased one of the guns in good faith to come forward.
Even though arrests have been made, Mathes said his department will continue to work the case until all the stolen guns are recovered.
Earlier version of the story:
ELIZABETHTON — Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes said the Dec. 1 burglary of the Blue Springs Gun Shop was committed by two teenagers. The two teens were arrested over the weekend and 46 weapons and several boxes of ammunition have been recovered.In a Monday morning press conference, Mathes identified one of the teens as Joshua Wade Ray, 18, 132 Dogtown Road. The other teen is 17 years old and his name was not immediately released because he is in Juvenile Court. Mathes said he is working to have the juvenile charged as an adult.Both teens were charged with aggravated burglary and theft over $10,000.Mathes said the two teens plotted the burglary for several weeks and even made a purchase of ammunition from the shop. Gun shop owner Melvin Oliver said they paid with a $100 bill, so he had to open the cash drawer to get change. He said that was the only drawer forced open by the burglars.The burglary took place on Sunday morning, Dec 1. The Olivers both normally attend church during the hours of the burglary.Mathes said his investigators were able to break the case with the leads from the public. One of the stolen guns was purchased in an undercover operation and an arrangement was made to purchase more.