A fun weekend of scouting events at Old Bethpage Restoration Village ended shortly after 11 a.m. Sunday with the shooting of 13-year old Stephen Schuster, a Levittown Boy Scout.
Approximately 400 Boy Scouts from all over Nassau County gathered at the Restoration Village for their annual Camporee. The Theodore Roosevelt Council of Camporees is an event where all the Nassau County Boy Scouts gather together once a year to test their skills and be competitive and show scout spirit. According to Stephen's Scoutmaster, Andrew Kaufman, the group was cleaning up the parking lot where they had been camping and were standing around, waiting for some ropes that were needed to reconstruct the parking lot, when Stephen was hit by a high caliber bullet.
Kaufman said, "Stephen went down and when I got there he said he heard a whistling or whizzing sound." Kaufman looked at Stephen's shirt where he saw two holes. He picked up the shirt and found an entrance wound and an exit wound and a projectile sticking out from his lower right quadrant. Kaufman says that it was only later that he found out that the projectile was a high caliber rifle bullet. Kaufman, a Wantagh/Levittown EMT, and a fellow scoutmaster who was an AEMT checked to make sure that he was okay and discovered that the bleeding was not bad, the bullet was sticking out, and he was stable. The bullet hit Stephen from the front, went three inches through his skin, by his bottom rib, and exited in the back of his side. They checked out his blood pressure and all his responses and were assured that he was in stable condition at the time. The AEMT then started an IV for him. According to Kaufman the paramedics from the police department started another one as soon as they arrived. He said that everything was very organized and nobody panicked.
Stephen was flown to the Nassau County Medical Center by police helicopter. He was released that same afternoon and returned home with his parents Pat and David Schuster. David is an assistant scout leader who was present at the time his son was shot.
Kaufman said that they had been hearing shots from the nearby rifle range all day long and didn't really think anything of it. The Huntington Town Rifle Range is only a mile and a half away from where Stephen was shot. Kaufman said, "I knew it was there but I didn't really think about it while we were there. Nothing had ever happened previously, so out of sight, out of mind." He added that the shot may very well not have come from the rifle range. "Let's face it, if somebody is out in the field shooting there is a big space. They could have been out there shooting illegally in the woods." He said that while he is not a ballistics expert, judging by the angle which the bullet hit Stephen at he believes that it is not very likely that the bullet came from the rifle range.
George Hoffman, the Chief of Staff to the Supervisor and Public Information Officer for the Town of Huntington, echoes Kaufman's sentiments about the unlikelihood of the bullet coming from the rifle range. He explained that the rifle range, which is run by the Town of Huntington, is located in a sand pit with grass and earth walls that rise up 121 feet. According to Hoffman "for a bullet to escape out of the perimeter of the rifle range is really unlikely, highly unusual, not to say this couldn't happen." He said that someone would have to deliberately point the gun up 60-70 degrees to get a bullet over the wall. The rifle range has been in this location, behind the restoration village, for 30 years without incident until now.
Hoffman continued to explain that many of their employees at the range are ex-law enforcement officers who work there part-time and that on Sunday there were five range officers working. He added that the range is a very strict environment where shooters shoot for seven or eight minutes, are told to cease shooting for about 10 minutes while the targets are being cleared and then allowed to begin again. "It is a pretty orderly process," Hoffman says. "It is not just people shooting around."
Despite indications that the range is not responsible for the shooting it has been shut down pending further investigation by the Nassau County Police 8th Precinct. They were asked, by the police, to shut down the rifle range at around 12:45 p.m. on Sunday so that they could do an investigation. At around 2:30 p.m. they were told that they could reopen the range. When the Town Supervisor was informed of the incident he ordered that the range be shut down at 4 p.m. The range is normally closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and opened again on Wednesday but the Town has decided to keep it closed, pending a final report by the Nassau County Police Department.
At press time the Nassau County Police were performing ballistics tests on the bullet and had not yet determined where the bullet had come from. The police flew over the area in their helicopter to examine the area and the trajectory paths that the bullet could have taken and to look at the angles and see if it could have come from the rifle range or came from some other locale. The Town has been informed that theoretically some of their rifles could shoot as far two miles, unimpeded. Another possibility that is being considered is that the bullet came from the 300 acres of open space that is behind the restoration village. The 8th Precinct reported that, as of Tuesday, they had no further details on the shooting.
Hoffman said that the town wants to wait for the police report before making any decisions about the range. He said, "If it is clearly pointed out that it is our facility then clearly we will take some steps to rectify that." Some possible options for the range, if it is found that the bullet came from there, are to increase the length of the earth walls or to use some of the new technology that some other rifle ranges are already using such as having the shooters shoot through tubes which prevents them from being able to shoot too many degrees off target.
Kaufman wants to be sure that everyone knows that they were there having a good time and that everything was safe. He says, "I'm sure that it was not intentional. It was a freak accident." He would like to thank the police department and paramedics for their quick response and the great job that they did.
According to Kaufman, Stephen, a student at Wisdom Lane Middle School, is doing fine and is ready to go camping again.