A three-month investigation into a network of alleged stolen gun traffickers led to the arrest of two additional suspects Wednesday, Cowlitz County Sheriff’s officers confirmed Thursday.
The case is one of the largest of its kind in years, even though it largely revolved around one victim.
The sheriff’s office declined to give specifics on the roles of the six individuals involved in the case. However, officials said most of the more than 30 guns stolen from a Kelso residence in November have been recovered.
“We’ve recovered the vast majority of the firearms in this case,” Detective Sgt. Troy Brightbill said. “We still have a couple that we’re looking for, but I would say we have something around 95 percent or better, which is very rare” in these cases.
Court documents paint a complex web of alleged theft and gun trafficking.
Keith Zigler, 47, of Castle Rock was arrested Jan. 2 on suspicion of possessing a stolen firearm. Zigler said he obtained one of the stolen guns and brought it to another person to dispose of, according to a probable cause statement.
Longview resident Shannon Chandler, 41 was arrested Jan. 12 on suspicion of first-degree burglary, possession of a stolen firearm, and unlawful possession of a firearm. He knows the victim and had a box containing his passport, drivers license, birth certificate, and other personal information, according to the court documents.
Zigler told police that Chandler had given him the box as well as a gun to sell, the statement said. It also said that several people claimed Chandler had tried to sell them firearms.
David Novy, 59, of Longview was arrested Jan. 16. According to court documents, Chandler told police he had given 17 of the stolen firearms to Novy to sell. Novy initially denied that, but on Jan. 26, police located 11 stolen guns Novy had sold to another party. Novy also hid various firearms in other places that he eventually revealed to police, the statement said, after later admitting to selling the guns.
On Feb. 2, officers arrested Zachary Sweetin, 33, of Longview, who is accused of looking out for police during the burglary and selling nine guns to his boss. Court documents reveal that Sweetin admitted to knowing the guns originated from the November burglary.
On Wednesday, police arrested two more suspects in the investigation: Brian Willard, 37, of Kelso and Nicholas Wirkkala, 35, of Longview. Both face charges of unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver.
In addition to stolen guns and ammunition, officers found body armor and masks while serving a search warrant at a home at some point during the investigation. Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Troy Brightbill said those items were not involved in the commission of the burglary, but were likely related to the significant amount of methamphetamine also found during the investigation.
Brightbill said the drug charges related to three of the men in the case are “incidental” to the investigation. The Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Narcotics Task Force, Kelso Police, and Longview street crimes units assisted in the case.
“There’s a lot of work left to do on that, and it wouldn’t surprise me if additional charges come out of this investigation related to the drug activity,” Chief Criminal Deputy Charlie Rosenzweig said Thursday.
Brightbill said he could not comment on any pending arrests or persons of interest, but he confirmed that there is one other local case related to the investigation that the Sheriff’s office is investigating.
“What is very, very unique about this case is the success that the detectives have had in their pursuit,” Rosenzweig said, “... that spiderwebbed out to where we now have six in custody responsible for the theft and trafficking of those firearms. That’s very unusual.”
Lead detective Riley McNeal and detective Lorenzo Gladson continue to work on the case, which has now been ongoing for nearly three months. “I can’t give the guys enough credit for all the work they’ve done,” Brightbill said.
Rosenzweig said that citizens should check the names of those arrested and call the Sheriff’s office (360-577-3092) or anonymous tip line app (tip411) if they have any information related to the case.
“There are a couple leads that we’re still following up on,” Brightbill said, “and as always, if people do have information about this case, we’d love to hear it.”