SALEM — A man walking along a path near the Salem Heights apartments thought he had been shot at, and a couple living in the complex rushed their three young children into another room for safety, after a 26-year-old man allegedly fired paintballs and threw firecrackers out a seventh-floor window of the complex Wednesday evening.
Justin Gilbert, of 12 Pope St., Apt. 710, denies he was the one who fired the paintball gun, saying he only threw a paintball out the window because his dog was about to eat it, pinning the shooting instead on a friend who was visiting, but admitted throwing the fireworks out the window because he is a "prankster," according to a police report.
But police say Gilbert's shifting accounts, the fact that he knew where the man was when he was hit by the paintballs, and the fact that he was in a bedroom full of paintball and Airsoft guns, paintballs and firecrackers, lead them to believe he was the culprit.
Gilbert pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace,and possession of fireworks, during his arraignment Thursday in Salem District Court.
Judge Randy Chapman released Gilbert from custody on conditions that he wear a GPS bracelet and obey a 7 p.m. curfew. He was also ordered to stay away from the victims.
Gilbert's attorney Justin Edwards told a judge that Gilbert and his friend trade paintball guns and supplies and that was the reason for the visit and why the paintball gun, and several Airsoft and BB guns were spread out on Gilbert's bed.
He also suggested that the case will be tough to prove for prosecutors.
But police have a number of witnesses, including the victim, who was walking along a path that leads from a nearby shopping plaza to the complex when he heard pops and then felt "some sort of projectile" hit his backpack.
"Believing that he was being shot at by a real firearm he began to run and hide behind trees," according to Patrolman Thomas Shute's report. "He stated that the first shots were semi-automatic, which then turned into rapid fire."
Meanwhile, in the apartment beneath the one where Gilbert lives with his mother, a couple called 911 after hearing loud bangs from the apartment upstairs at around 9:30 p.m. The husband told officers there was a history of their upstairs neighbor shooting paintballs from the window, but that this time, they saw flashes of light and feared there was actual gunfire. They grabbed their children and ran them into another room, fearing for their safety.
At Gilbert's apartment, police encountered his mother and his friend, who was working on a bicycle in the living room, and Gilbert in his bedroom, with a Tipplman paintball gun, Airsoft guns styled to look like an AR-15 and a Beretta, a Barra BB gun, and numerous paintballs and accessories. He also had a large box of firecrackers.
His mother told officers there are "plenty" of people in the complex who fire paintball guns out windows at the complex.
Prosecutor Kelly Waldo urged Judge Randy Chapman to set bail at $2,500 cash, citing his history with the court and the panic that local residents felt believing that there was a shooting at a residential apartment building.
Waldo had also urged Chapman to revoke Gilbert's bail in a domestic assault case set to go to trial next week, in which Gilbert was charged with slapping his girlfriend — who apparently now no longer wants to testify in the case and was in court Thursday in support of Gilbert. That request was denied.
Gilbert will be back in court on Tuesday for trial in the domestic assault case and a pretrial hearing on the paintball charges.
Chapman acknowledged that while a curfew and GPS might not prevent a similar incident given that it allegedly occurred at Gilbert's home, "at least it keeps him off the street."
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.