An Astoria father faces several charges for allegedly bringing what were described as two BB guns to a crowded park last Tuesday, loading one of them with plastic pellets, firing at a tree and then handing them to his children so they could shoot too.
His 5-year-old daughter allegedly ran around the park waving one of the loaded guns at other children.
Zbigniew Pawlowski, 54, of 23rd Avenue is charged with first- and second-degree reckless endangerment, endangering the welfare of a child and resisting arrest, as well as an administrative violation relating to firearms. He was arraigned Thursday, released on his own recognizance and must return to court July 9.
He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.
The incident occurred at Ditmars Park on Steinway Street at about 11:30 a.m. Pawlowski arrived at the park with his daughter and his son, described by an onlooker as 3 years old, and the two guns. After taking some shots at a tree, Pawlowski allegedly handed the guns to his children and allowed them to shoot at several locations in the park, and then let the 5-year-old run around with one of them, which she pointed at other children.
A parent named Richard called the police, according to a report on the incident posted on the Queens Mamas website. He was told officers were on their way, and so he and the other parents gathered their children in an area "away from the bouncing pellets and waited."
After half an hour, another parent called and was told the police were coming, but they did not arrive, according to the Queens Mamas report. One poster on the website said they arrived only after being contacted by City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, but that could not be confirmed.
Detectives from the 114th Precinct investigated the incident, according to the DA's office, and when police tried to arrest Pawlowski, he allegedly "flailed his arms in an attempt to avoid being handcuffed and placed under arrest."
It was not immediately clear if the guns were actual BB guns that usually fire metal rounds much like ball bearings, or "toys" that only take plastic pellets. The Office of District Attorney Richard Brown described them as BB guns, but when asked to clarify because the rounds were plastic, aides said they would have to call the Police Department to be sure of how best to describe the weapons.
The Queens Mamas website described the gun wielded by the little girl as "a plastic 38-caliber loaded pellet gun."
What was clear, however, is that the DA's office is taking the incident seriously.
“Illegal firearms – whether they be a spring-powered pistol or a more conventional deadly firearm – are a serious threat to public safety," Brown said in announcing the arrest. "By allowing a five-year-old child to play with the loaded BB gun as if it was just a toy, the defendant is accused of recklessly endangering lives by creating a scenario that could have led to serious injury not just to his own children but innocent others who may have come in contact with the weapon.”
Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the author of the Queens Mamas post said that approximately 30,000 people are treated each year in hospital emergency rooms for BB and pellet gun injuries — 80 percent of them less than 20 years old.
Most posters on the Queens Mamas website agreed that Pawlowski put the children in the park in danger.
"An adult allowing a child to terrorize other children is unacceptable," said one commenter who identified herself as an Astoria resident. "I am going to imagine the parents who were actually there were able to recognize a clear and present danger."
The poster also alleged that Pawlowski, whom she only referred to as the "adult," has been threatening in the past, but did not elaborate.
One commenter, however, asked if the offending object was "an air-gun that shoots metal BBs" or "one of those pellet guns, which shoot little plastic balls which sort of fly 10 feet or so before slowly bouncing off of something without incident?"
The poster, who identified himself as from New York University, said the Queens Mamas report made it sound like "the latter," in which case, he said, "there's not much to worry about" and "Everybody needs to relax. Save your outrage for Sandy Hook."
The Queens Mamas post and comments appeared to have been taken down or moved by Friday afternoon, but a cached version could still be accessed.
UPDATE: Kevin Ryan, a spokesman for the Queens DA, said late Friday afternoon that while "in the criminal complaint it is described as a BB gun, it is plastic and takes plastic pellets."