Fearful Belchertown residents blame stray bullets on nearby gun club, appeal to town for help

One of two bullet holes in the shed of a Belchertown home found after the March 29 incident.

One of two bullet holes in the shed of a Belchertown home found after the March 29 incident. CONTRIBUTED/JEFFERY SADJAK

A bullet shattered the glass storm door of a Mountain View Drive home last June.

A bullet shattered the glass storm door of a Mountain View Drive home last June. CONTRIBUTED/ANDREW RACHLIN

On March 29, a bullet hit this sliding glass door in the back of a Belchertown home, which led to an investigation by the district attonery’s office.

On March 29, a bullet hit this sliding glass door in the back of a Belchertown home, which led to an investigation by the district attonery’s office. CONTRIBUTED/STEVE NELSON

A glass storm door shattered by a bullet that hit a Mountain View Drive home last June. 

A glass storm door shattered by a bullet that hit a Mountain View Drive home last June.  CONTRIBUTED/ANDREW RACHLIN

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 04-18-2024 3:19 PM

Modified: 04-18-2024 5:18 PM


BELCHERTOWN — Jake Hulseberg won’t let his children play on the swing set he built them in their backyard on Mountain View Drive because of bullets that shattered glass doors on two houses on the street.

Instead, Hulseberg keeps his kids in the front yard, so their house separates the children from the Granby Gun and Bow Club’s long shooting range, where Belchertown residents allege these bullets are coming from. Mountain View Drive is situated along the Belchertown/Granby town line, and is approximately one mile east of the Granby Bow and Gun Club.

“Let me make this really clear that the bullet that struck our home did not just shatter the glass. It shattered ours and our children’s sense of safety in our home,” Christine Catania-Rachlin, a Mountain View Drive resident whose glass front door was destroyed by a bullet on June 27 last year.

A similar scenario occurred on March 29, when a stray bullet shattered the back sliding glass door of another home on Mountain View Drive. Both state and local police are investigating the latest incident.

Other residents of the Turkey Hill area take similar precautions as Hulseberg. Many say they refrain from staying outside their homes and avoid windows facing the direction of the gun club during its hours of operation.

 “Prior to the bullet hitting the glass door, my wife and the owner of the company that was painting our house,  Bruno, were standing right in front of that door. That had  to be within hours of that bullet striking the glass door,” Steve Nelson said, referring to the gunfire that hit his home on March 29. The incident is also under investigation by the Northwestern district attorney’s office.

The district attorney, with support from Belchertown police, has investigated last year’s incident of a bullet hitting a home in the neighborhood, but residents assert they have found and turned over four bullets to the police from residential properties. They say there are more they can’t find.

“I had been outside doing my lawn on several occasions when the range is in operation. And on those occasions, rounds come past me. We’re just not able to find where they are,” said Andrew Rachlin, Christine’s husband.

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Seventeen residents of the two streets brought their case to the Belchertown Select Board meeting on Tuesday, voicing their fears about the stray bullets coming into their neighborhood, all pointing the Granby Bow and Gun Club as the source of the gunfire. The group asked the Select Board to work in tandem with Granby to expedite the investigation, request the club adopt new safety measures, and halt use of its 700-yard and 1,000-yard long ranges until a ballistics expert does a safety audit on the range.

The Rachlins presented two enlarged photos showing the range of the weapons used for target shooting on the club’s long ranges and the location of their home. They made a preliminary surface danger zone calculation — the area a bullet can travel from the point it’s fired — and found that guns used on the club’s long range have a triangle-shaped range of 3,000 meters from the point the gun is fired. Mountain View Drive is within 1,700 meters (about a mile) from the 1,000-meter long range.

“We just happen to be the ones that got hit. But every single home in our development, including the two streets behind us and next to us, are in range of these guns,” Rachlin said. “When they use the more high-powered ones, the Belchertown schools are within the range that these guns can reach.”

Before the meeting, Granby Bow and Gun Club President Ryan Downing sent a letter to the Belchertown Board of Health saying their preliminary investigation shows the club was not the source of the bullet found on March 29. Following the recent incident, the club suspended rifle shooting until April 24 while it re-evaluates its safety procedures. The same statement is on the club’s website.

“We want you to know that the club takes all such incidents seriously, whatever the source,” the letter reads. “We are using our investigation of the incident as an opportunity to reevaluate Club policies and procedures to ensure that Granby Bow and Gun Club continues to meet high standards of safety.”

While the club’s long range first opened in 2016, it was shut down within a year due to a cease-and-desist issued by the town of Granby in 2017 for building the range with an expired permit. Later that year, the Granby Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously voted to close the long range indefinitely until 2022, when the range finally reopened.

“It’s been operational for less than two years and already four bullets found,” Moutain View Drive resident Jeffery Sajdak said at the Select Board meeting.

Sajdak noticed two small holes in his woodshed after the incident, on April 4. Police recovered two bullets from his property, adding two more to the total found in the neighborhood.

While the district attorney conducts an investigation to track the person who shot the bullet on March 29, residents focused on the range itself. The group requested a safety audit be completed by a ballistics expert to investigate the design, operation, supervision and procedures of the club’s long range.

Specifically, the group wants an expert to calculate the surface danger zone. If the surface danger zone extends past the Granby town line, the club would be in violation of Massachusetts nuisance and trespass law.

“The point of a gun range is that if you have a bad shot, that the backstop prevents it from exiting, not only their facility, their town. Their bullets should not leave their town. And so a lot of the flaw in this is the design,” Overlook Drive resident Nicole Senecal said.

Residents also asked for an expedited investigation, hoping to avoid a three-month investigation like the one that occurred after the first glass door was shot out last year.

“We need to push very hard immediately to get a ballistics expert down there to say is it safe or not,” Hulseberg said. “We can’t wait for the police to finish another three months’ investigation.”

The group also asked if the Belchertown Select Board could convince the club to adopt common-sense operating practices or ask Granby to enact safety measures. The request would include a range safety officer staffed at all times, video surveillance and trail cameras, annual inspections by an accredited organization, and fencing for added protection.

The meeting began with a statement from the town counsel urging residents to wait until the police investigation is finished before taking action. After hearing from residents, the Select Board members and Town Manager Steve Williams admitted that the statement does not represent their feelings; they don’t want to sit around while Belchertown residents fear for their safety.

“I will say that I’m uncomfortable given the initial statement that I can’t express what I want to express,” Select Board member Lesa Pearson said. “I’ll go with what was said, but I’m not happy about it and if it doesn’t make anyone here happy.”

Neither the board members nor Williams could promise immediate action due to the district attorney’s investigation of the March 29 incident. Williams said he would bring the comments of residents and the suggestion of a public safety investigation back to Town Council and the proper authorities. He promised to keep the residents updated on any developments.

“The idea of having a private investigation ongoing at the same time as a criminal investigation … there could be conflicts there. So there’s a lot of things that we need to work out. I’m not opposed to the idea. I think it’s probably a good idea. And I just don’t know how to do it,” Williams said.

Without safety audits or outside safety experts, the internal and DA investigation do not alleviate the stress and concern of Belchetown residents.

“I’m not trying to close the gun club. I shoot. I carry. That’s not who I am,” Andrew Rachlin said. “But they don’t have the right to put us as a neighborhood in the town next door in harm’s way.”