Police seek suspects after Basalt shooting
BASALT Someone fired five shots into the Basalt 7-Eleven late Tuesday night in what a clerk at the store claimed was a racially fueled incident.The bullets penetrated a large plate-glass window at the storefront about 11:10 p.m. The shots rattled the lone employee on duty and scattered patrons, but no one was injured, according to Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda. Four customers were believed to be in the store at the time, including a family with a child, police said.If the clerk had been behind the cashier counter or a patron had been browsing at a magazine rack directly in front of the window they would have been killed or seriously injured, Ikeda said.The bullets ricocheted inside the store, denting a lottery-ticket machine. Glass was strewn throughout the interior right after the incident but cleaned up before the morning rush on Wednesday.The whole thing was just shocking, said the store manager, who identified himself only as Tom.Police had made no arrests as of late Wednesday night. Basalt police worked leads throughout the day with assistance from the sheriffs offices of Pitkin and Eagle counties and Snowmass Village police. Authorities were seeking two Latino men identified as persons of interest.The shots were fired from Two Rivers Road in front of the store, Ikeda said. Investigators found casings that indicated the weapon was a rifle.
Bruno Kirchenwitz, a clerk at 7-Eleven, said he was working when two Latino men approached him around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. They asked him if he is the guy who wears a baseball hat that says U.S. Border Patrol.He didnt have the hat on at the time but acknowledged he possesses it, he said. The men allegedly made threatening remarks that Kirchenwitz said he didnt take seriously.They said, Were going to wait for you. I thought they were just blowin smoke, Kirchenwitz said.The men left the store and stayed outside briefly before departing the area, according to Kirchenwitz and authorities, who were able to review video surveillance cameras. Kirchenwitz got off duty and departed the store without incident around 10:15 p.m.A different clerk was working when the shots were fired.He wasnt standing at the register, thank God, or he would have been dead, Kirchenwitz said. They could have killed innocent people.
Ikeda confirmed that Kirchenwitz told them about the altercation, but he declined to call it a racial incident.All we know is he got in a verbal dispute with two Latino males, and we believe that this may be connected to the shooting, Ikeda said.Graffiti heightened racial tensions earlier this year on construction sites in Snowmass Village and at the Aspen public school campus, but those appear to be isolated events. Nevertheless, any event is a cause for concern, according to Ikeda. It is a great concern of ours, this racial tension.The latest incident might be an example of the national debate over immigration filtering down to the local level, Ikeda noted. The Border Patrol is a highly offensive symbol to some Latinos.Nevertheless, Ikeda said, the fact that someone was wearing a Border Patrol hat didnt warrant firing shots.Kirchenwitz said he has worked at 7-Eleven for about three months. He said he never wears the hat at work, but wears it nearly every day to and from work. He noted he also possesses a T-shirt that says, Jesus is my gardener.Kirchenwitz said he wears the Border Patrol hat as a type of statement against illegal immigration, not against Latinos. He said he isnt racist but opposes illegal entry of immigrants into the U.S.The 7-Eleven manager stressed that any views of Kirchenwitz are his own and not those of the corporation. He said the store hasnt experienced racial problems in the past.Weve not had any issues at all, he said. This is surprising to me.Tom said the clerk on duty at the time was shaken-up but otherwise fine. He declined further comment about the incident, citing corporate policy.Even if it did provoke a response, that response was a violent criminal act that can never be condoned, Ikeda said.
The patrons in the store fled after the shooting. Police want them to come forward for an interview to see if they can provide information that helps the investigation. Police were able to interview bystanders who heard the shots.Officers from the Pitkin and Eagle County sheriffs offices and Snowmass Village converged on the scene Tuesday night to help with an extensive search for evidence, Ikeda said. The Basalt fire department sent equipment to the scene to flood it with light.Investigators were working to establish the identities of the two men who were in the verbal altercation with Kirchenwitz. The Basalt police department labeled the men persons of interest possibly involved in the shooting. Ikeda said the investigation indicated that the men live locally.Officers wouldnt say if the persons of interest were interviewed Wednesday, but they never took anyone into custody.The two Latino males wanted for questioning were described as between ages 18 and 28. One is 5 feet 7 inches to 5-foot-9 and weighs between 200 and 225 pounds. He has a short crew cut with a clean-shaven face.The other suspect is 5 feet 6 to 5-foot-8 and weighs 180-195 pounds. He has a shaven head, clean-shaven face and multiple tattoos on his upper left arm.They were thought to be driving a silver-colored, two-door sedan.Anyone with information about the suspects or the incident should call the Basalt Police Department at 927-4316.Reporter Janet Urquhart contributed to this report. Scott Condons e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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