SARANAC LAKE - Village police now say a local man may have made up the story that he was robbed and shot in the shoulder on a railroad trestle off of Pine Street Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, a .22-caliber rifle that the man apparently used to shoot himself has been recovered from the Saranac River.
"The information we received from the individual last night has come into question as to whether it happened the way he said it did," village Police Chief Bruce Nason said late Wednesday morning. "It's certainly appearing that it could be a self-inflicted gunshot wound."
Dressed in his diving gear, village police officer Aaron Donaldson carries a .22-caliber rifle recovered from the Saranac River Wednesday morning by Saranac Lake Fire Chief Brendan Keough, right, also in his diving gear.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Nason said this morning that his department isn't ready to make an arrest in the case.
"But we do have some more information," he said. "A couple of the people we've set up interviews with asked to do it later because of Thanksgiving. We'll do that on Monday. We should hopefully wrap up the investigation by Monday."
The incident took place around 7 p.m. Tuesday, when a 55-year-old village resident, whose name has yet to be released, called 911 to report he had been shot in the shoulder and robbed on the trestle by two people who then fled the scene on foot. He described his assailants as white males, both 5 feet, 9 inches tall with sturdy builds and wearing dark-colored parkas.
Police and rescue personnel responded. The man was taken to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake and later airlifted to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt., where Nason last heard he was in stable condition. Nason said the man didn't sustain any life-threatening injuries.
Village and state police launched a search for the two suspects that lasted late into the night, canvassing homes in the area and taking statements from potential witnesses. The search resumed this morning, but Nason said police started to realize that parts of the man's story didn't add up.
"Things started to change with some of his initial reporting," he said. "The Adirondack Daily Enterprise put some information on their website in the late evening, and we started receiving phone calls from the public. A potential witness has sent information that's leading us to believe this didn't occur the way he reported it."
Nason wouldn't reveal specifically what information led the police to question the man's story.
Police revisited the scene of the incident Wednesday morning and spotted the rifle lying on the bottom of the river from the train trestle.
"As we came back during the daylight hours, there was better visibility from the trestle, with the sun coming over from that direction," Nason said. "It was easy to spot the rifle. It was right below the location where we found the person."
Around 11:30 a.m., Saranac Lake Fire Chief Brendan Keough and village police officer Aaron Donaldson waded out into the river in their dive suits, with the assistance of the fire department's dive team captain, Ken McLaughlin. After less than a minute of searching, Keough pulled the rifle from the water, which is roughly 2 feet deep in that area, and the gun was brought to shore and bagged up as evidence. The rifle will be sent to the state police forensics unit in Ray Brook to be analyzed, Nason said.
Nason admitted it was upsetting to have wasted so much time on what now appears to have been a wild goose chase.
"It's frustrating for us, but my concern is for his mental well-being," Nason said. "If he went to this measure to (give himself) a possibly self-inflicted gunshot wound, he needs some assistance."
Nason said the man was familiar to police. Nason didn't believe his officers had arrested him before, but police had answered "service" calls to his residence, though the chief didn't elaborate.
Police will be able to release the man's name once they confirm information provided by a witness, Nason said. He could face charges of falsely reporting an incident. If he's been convicted of a felony, which Nason said he hasn't determined, he could also be charged with illegal possession of a weapon.
It's been many years since the last intentional shooting in the village. Asked if that raised any red flags when Tuesday night's incident was first reported, Nason said yes.
"We don't have incidents like this very often," he said. "It's the first time I've encountered an incident like this in Saranac Lake since I've been here, and I've been here 18 years."
But it isn't the first time police have had an alleged crime reported in the same area that turned out to be false. A year ago, on Nov. 2, 2011, a young girl reported that she had been attacked along the railroad tracks near Bloomingdale Avenue by someone wielding a knife. Police later determined the girl - who had cuts to her face, hand and leg - had made the story up after causing the injuries to herself.
Reminded of that incident Tuesday night, Nason said the thought that the reported shooting could be a hoax had crossed his mind, but at that point he felt the man's story had been consistent.