On July 6, two armed men allegedly entered a Happy Valley home and asked the 16-year-old girl sitting at the computer in her kitchen where her dad kept his guns.
After they took her cell phone from her, Flathead County District Court records state that the girl led the men upstairs to her father’s gun safe, and one man put his gun to her head while the other searched the room.
Then, records state, both men dragged the safe downstairs and loaded it into a car driven by another man and took off.
Officers from the Kalispell Police Department worked with the girl on a suspect list. Sheriff’s deputies and investigators with the Northwest Drug Task Force served search warrants on houses and vehicles in Columbia Falls and Whitefish, finding most of the stolen guns, as well as narcotics.
An alleged money counterfeiting operation was also discovered and seized.
The men eventually arrested and charged in the case were Bradley Thompson, 25, of Kalispell; Kevin Gaethle, 29, of Kalispell; and Kelly Campbell, 22, of Columbia Falls.
Another suspect, Steven Acton, 27, of Whitefish, has yet to be apprehended.
According to Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry, the robbery was connected to heroin trafficking.
While many Montanans are all too familiar with methamphetamine and marijuana busts, Curry said heroin has made a bit of a resurgence in the past couple of years.
“It’s made a comeback, regionally,” Curry said in an interview last week.
The sheriff attributes the shift to a couple factors: decline in meth use and price increases.
“The price of meth changed or got driven up because of the controls that were placed on the precursors,” Curry said.
This means stricter regulations on the ingredients and products needed to make and distribute the drug, Curry said. It is a big enough deterrent for small-time producers, he noted.
Meth certainly isn’t gone, he said, but the decline in use can also be attributed to public education and the realization for a lot of people about how bad the drug really is. The effects are easily visible early on, Curry said, and it has scared many people away.
Curry described the drug market as a “reverse supply and demand,” meaning that what is there is what is used. With less meth, dealers and users are turning to other powder-based drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, Curry said.
According to the sheriff, it costs nearly the same price to buy a gram of cocaine, heroin and meth.
Since the beginning of the year, officers have removed 209.75 grams of heroin from the drug market in Flathead County. An ounce of heroin, meth or cocaine costs about $1,400, Curry said. The drugs run about $300 a gram.
Individual purchases, or “points,” cost $40, he said. There are 10 points in a gram.
Court records state that the suspects in the Happy Valley robbery had allegedly planned to take the stolen guns to Portland to either buy or trade the firearms for heroin.
According to court records, the 16-year-old Happy Valley girl eventually identified Acton as the man who allegedly held the gun to her head.
Investigators reported that the men told the girl her uncle owed them some money, and that they were taking her father’s guns as payment. They also allegedly told her they would give the guns back once her uncle paid them.
Court records state that the men stole a Ruger Mini 14, three AR-15 rifles, a .308 rifle, two 30-30 rifles, a World War II-era Luger pistol and countless ammunition in the safe.
On July 7, police arrested Thompson for suspected shoplifting at Walmart. He had given a fake name during his arrest.
During Thompson’s interview, investigators identified Gaethle and Acton as suspects. A subsequent search of Gaethle’s residence yielded the stolen gun safe, records state.
Thompson is being charged with felony robbery, accountability to robbery, felony theft and assault with a weapon.
Gaethle was arrested, and it was determined that he allegedly knew the victims and had helped them move into their house. He also said he was being falsely accused.
He is being charged with accountability to robbery and felony theft.
Officers arrested Campbell during a traffic stop, and he allegedly told investigators during his interview that he was headed to Portland with Acton and the guns. Campbell was allegedly in possession of stolen firearms when he was stopped.
He denied being part of the robbery. Campbell is being charged with accountability to robbery and felony theft.
Acton, who Curry is confident will be captured soon, faces felony robbery, accountability to robbery, felony theft and assault with a weapon charges.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.