The father of a Vadnais Heights boy who allegedly threatened to shoot up his school owned several illegal firearms and kept loaded guns out in the open, according to charges filed Monday.
Christopher Stowe, 41, was charged in Ramsey County District Court with two felony counts of prohibited possession of machine guns and short-barreled shotguns and one count of gross misdemeanor negligent storage of firearms where a child can access them.
Authorities on Friday seized a cache of firearms, ammunition and at least two explosive devices from Stowe's split-level home on Desoto Street. Some of the firearms were unsecured, and a ballistic vest was also recovered, authorities said.
"Law enforcement officers also recovered several trigger kits hidden in the ceiling of the residence," said the charges against Stowe. "They appeared to be conversion kits for converting weapons to automatic weapons. Deputies also discovered literature on how to convert a semi-automatic weapon to a fully automatic weapon."
Stowe's wife, Lisa Marie Stowe, 40, was charged with one count of gross misdemeanor negligent storage of firearms by the Vadnais Heights City Attorney's Office.
Ramsey County attorney spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein said a 13-year-old boy, who the sheriff's office has identified as the Stowes' son, was charged Monday with one felony count of threats of violence.
Samuel Surface, an attorney for Christopher Stowe, said his client and Lisa Stowe were released from jail without paying bail. Surface successfully argued in court for a conditional release option for Christopher Stowe. Surface does not represent any other members of the Stowe family.
Patrick Cochran, a certified student attorney for the Ramsey County Attorney's Office, argued for $30,000 bail, noting that the guns were "strewn about the house" and accessible to the Stowes' two minor children.
Ramsey County District Judge Robert Awsumb said Stowe could be released with no bail as long as he stayed away from guns and ammunition — or pay $25,000 bail.
Christopher Stowe was released Monday evening. A neighbor, Dawn Metcalf, waited at the county jail to drive him home. She said she hopes the case teaches Minnesotans to properly store and secure their guns, and she added that sometimes kids say things they don't mean.
"If one kid says something like, 'Would you ever do this,' and they say, 'Well yeah, I would.' ... It's bragging," she said. "It's bragging, and it's out of context."
Lisa Stowe was released Monday afternoon after appearing before a different judge.
Their son's court hearing scheduled for Monday was postponed to Tuesday. Surface said he had yet to review the preliminary paperwork associated with the case and expected "mountains" of evidence to arrive.
Surface acknowledged that defending his client could be a challenge after the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., school shooting that left 17 people dead, but he said it's not a case concerning the Second Amendment right to bear arms; rather, it involves the Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures.
"I don't think, as this plays out, that guns are going to be the focus," Surface said.
Family members say the charges arose when students at the boy's Maplewood middle school, Academy for Sciences and Agriculture, had speculated about possible attacks at their own school in the wake of the recent shooting in Parkland. The 13-year-old, who has autism, had not been allowed to watch news coverage of the event but wanted to sound tough and fit in, said his grandfather Mark Stowe. Ramsey County Sheriff Jack Serier announced the investigation last Friday, noting that "potential tragedy" had been averted.
Metcalf reiterated Monday that the Stowes are "America's family."
"A lot of people own guns, and if Congress isn't doing their job to regulate it and they leave it to the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, well then there might be problems."
'Warm and private reunion'
According to the charges against Christopher Stowe: The sheriff's office on Thursday began investigating allegations that Stowe's son threatened to kill a classmate and had a list of other students he was also targeting.
The boy was being removed from school for making the threats and allegedly said, " 'Hide in the closet when I come back, because I will start shooting then.' "
The boy later told a deputy at the family's home that he was not serious about the threat.
Lisa Stowe allegedly told investigators that her son did not have access to the firearms and that there were no weapons in the home, the charges said.
Christopher Stowe allegedly told investigators searching the family home Friday that the guns belonged to him. He declined further questioning.
"During the execution of the search warrant, law enforcement officers also observed that several of the firearms were a [sic] loaded and located out in the open and accessible to children in the home," the charges said. "[The boy] was home alone when law enforcement officers first arrived to execute the search warrant."
Mark Stowe said Monday that he lives in the family home as well and that authorities mischaracterized the items they found.
The "trigger kits" are new triggers the family bought to make a "junk gun that we bought shoot like a nice gun," he said. Mark Stowe also said he was modifying a shotgun so his grandson could use it to shoot skeet.
The family's guns were kept in gun safes, but the three adults in the home are licensed to carry and sometimes have loaded handguns, he added.
"This is a bad overreaction, and I think it's driven by what's happened in the news," Mark Stowe said, referring to other school shootings.
Surface said that despite the allegations and media reports, the Stowes are hardworking, law abiding citizens. Christopher Stowe is a journeyman plumber, while Lisa Stowe handles logistics for a trucking firm. He said he looked forward to the family having "a warm and private reunion."
"They both have jobs; they live in your community; they go to work; they take care of their son," Surface said. "They are normal, everyday Minnesotans, and through a series of events that is still trying to be ferreted out … these people were called at their jobs, told their door was going to be kicked in, they went home to cooperate and they've been in a jail cell ever since."
His comments were made before the Stowes were released from jail.