2006-08-31 / Front Page

Gun range suicide hits Agoura again

By Stephanie Bertholdo bertholdo@theacorn.com

Over the years, Robert Kramer, 57, periodically visited the Agoura Hills Target Range. Although Jim Davis, owner of the range, hadn't seen Kramer for several months, he had known him for more than 15 years and was always happy to see his old friend come in to shoot.

Kramer visited the range at 5040 Cornell Road on the afternoon of Fri., Aug. 18. After chatting for about 15 minutes and going to his car to retrieve a mutual friend's phone number for Davis, Kramer returned to the indoor facility at about 3 p.m. He fired a few rounds at targets, then placed a 22caliber semiautomatic pistol in his mouth and shot himself. He died instantly.

Davis said that Kramer was with another man, who fled the scene when he saw what had happened. Range members are not allowed to rent a gun and shoot alone. Two or more people must be present at all times, Davis said.

Kramer, a former Calabasas and Westlake Village resident before he moved in with a woman in Sherman Oaks, reportedly is the seventh person to take his life at the gun range since the range opened in 1982. Six of the suicides have occurred since 1995.

"I know that he was depressed," said his girlfriend, who asked to remain anonymous. "He fired a few rounds, then turned the gun on himself."

She said Kramer had two sons, ages 15 and 18, who live with their mother.

The woman said Kramer had been a regular visitor to the Agoura Hills range, and although she didn't think he owned any weapons of his own, she said he was trained in firearm usage.

"It makes me very, very mad," Davis said of his friend's suicide. "Unless there was something like a fatal disease or something like that, there's no excuse for that. He was a perfectly healthy individual. I had no idea about what was wrong . . . no suspicions whatsoever."

When a person suffering from depression or other mood disorders decides to end his life, he might appear to family and friends to be more relaxed and happy than usual. The act of making the decision reduces the emotional burden, according to some psychologists.

"Usually, when they've made a decision they are in a good mood," Davis said. He said that Kramer showed no signs of being upset, sad or in distress.

Ranges common sites

Detective Sgt. Tim Youngern of the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station said gun range suicides are difficult to prevent.

"They have all the tools they need," Youngern said. "They aren't accidental shootings, they're deliberate acts."

Target ranges, in fact, are a common location for suicides and suicide attempts in California. In 2005, a man threatened to commit suicide at an indoor shooting range in Oceanside, and a 23year-old San Jose woman shot herself last month at an indoor Milpitas range. According to a Mercury News article about the event, the woman's death was "at least the third suicide in the past decade at the range."

An employee at Shooters Paradise in Oxnard, who requested anonymity, said on average there is one suicide at a shooting range every four to six years. The statistic, he said, was based on an insurance company study. Another employee said two people in 20 years had killed themselves at the Oxnard site.

Hotels, motels

Target ranges aren't the only places chosen by people to commit suicide using guns. Davis said hotel and motel rooms are often rented by those who want to take their own lives.

Kathleen Walk, general manager of the Hampton Inn and Suites in Agoura Hills, said that during her 19 years working in the hotel industry, she had only been employed at one site where a suicide took place, a Comfort Inn in Santa Clarita. There have not been any such deaths at the Agoura Hills inn, Walk said. "We're pretty fortunate."

Scrutiny is intense

The Agoura Hills gun range saw its first suicide in 1982, and since then a 40-year-old Woodland Hills woman and several others have used the facility to end their lives.

A 19-year-old man committed suicide at the range in 1998, and in the summer of 2000, the suicide of a Thousand Oaks man with a history of mental illness sparked a protest by family members who wanted Davis to conduct more thorough background checks on members.

Davis said he strictly follows all gun laws and tries to determine if a customer might be mentally unstable. Background checks on criminal behavior and mental illness are conducted on members, and he will not rent a gun to anyone who seems ill or appears to have used drugs or alcohol. Customer cards kept at the range and detail members' proficiency with firearms.

First time visitors to the range must fill out paperwork and wait seven days to shoot. For those who want to purchase firearmsthe scrutiny is even more intenseDue to previous suicides at the range, Davis and personnel at the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station tried to develop a profile of those who might make such an attempt. BuKramer didn't fit that profile. In 2005, Davis, an eighth-generation master gunsmith who also served in the military, took parin a gun safety program that provided more than 1,000 kits to shooters.The kits included a cable gun-lock system and a firearm safety brochure.

Regarding his friend's suicide"I had no idea about what was wrong," Davis said. "I had no suspicions whatsoever. I get very aggravated with people who don't know how much life is worth. We service a lot of fine people (here)," he said, "but we can't help it when (somebody) jumps the gun."

Davis said the range is used by the FBI, the Secret Service, U.SCustoms, SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, and law enforcement officers from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara.

Specialists in the mental health field say one or more common clues usually warn that a person may attempt to take their own lifeAmong the signs to watch for are ideation (talking or writing about death); substance abuse; purposelessness; anxiety; feelings of being trapped; hopelessness; withdrawal; anger, recklessness and mood changes. For more information, call the Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-TALK (273-8255).

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