Jose Martinez and his neighbors just want to be able to stop worrying about whether they or their homes will be struck by stray bullets.
Their rural community along FM 1937 in South Bexar County is not a crime-ridden area. The neighborhood is, however, about 500 feet behind the targets of a gun range they say went up more than a year ago.
The owners of the 281 Country Club, a recreational complex off U.S. 281 West that includes the gun range, say the bullets could be coming from anywhere in the rural area.
A mobile home sits south of the club; the Col. Miguel Menchaca Early Childhood Center is just north of the property.
Martinez and other residents say bullets from the shooting range are not being contained by the existing backstops. Instead, they say, the bullets are whizzing into surrounding neighborhoods.
“I love guns and I’m an advocate, but you’ve also gotta be respectful,” Martinez said “Somebody shouldn’t get shot in their own house.”
The 281 Country Club is owned by 20 people, including a group of friends from Mexico now living in San Antonio, who came together to split the cost of the property.
Jorge Treviño, one of the owners, grew up on ranches across the border from Eagle Pass, hunting, riding bikes and barbecuing.
In San Antonio, he found himself stuck on phones and Facebook — especially during COVID-19 lockdowns — and wanted to spend more time outdoors again. So the group chipped in to buy the required 10 acres for shooting on private property. He said they primarily use the complex for themselves.
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Treviño said the stray bullets that neighbors have reported could be coming from anywhere in this rural area, where many residents shoot for fun.
“We’re in the middle of nowhere. Anybody that has 10 acres can shoot. There’s a bunch of people around here that have 10 acres and shoot,” he said.
He attributes the complaints to nearby residents who either are upset about the noise of the shooting range or do not shoot guns themselves.
“It’s kind of like when you’re not a smoker, I guess, and somebody’s smoking right next to you and you get pissed,” Treviño said. “But it’s legal as long as I’m outside.”
Since December, Gladys Jimenez, who owns land with her father south and east of the neighborhood, has been working with residents to protect themselves from what they say are stray bullets coming from the club.
Some residents, including Martinez, said they would be satisfied if the range would just change the direction in which the weapons are fired. But Jimenez and other residents think the range should be shut down, saying it’s a danger to the neighborhood and nearby school.
To the east of the club, Yolanda Wilbur, 68, and extended family members own nine homes along the rural stretch. She said her children can no longer play outside and her husband can’t cut the grass.
Wilbur says she fears being shot in her own backyard.
“We’re trapped here. We’re in danger,” Wilbur said. “Somebody’s going to kill our kids or they’re going to kill us. One of the two.”
Alejandro Zepeda, 54, did get shot in his backyard. In March 2019, the retired North East Independent School District kitchen tech was welding a carport when his wife heard gunshots and went outside to check on him.
“She asked me, ‘Are you OK?’ And as I was about to respond, I got shot right in the back,” Zepeda recalled.
His wife called 911. Zepeda, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years, was treated by EMS at his home.
According to a report from the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, Zepeda told deputies that he did not want to pursue charges, believing that the incident was accidental. Instead, he wanted the people he thought were hunting to be informed, the report states.
A deputy made contact with five men who said they were shooting on the club property, but they were unaware Zepeda was grazed. They all agreed to change their direction of shooting, the report states.
An attorney has sent a cease-and-desist notice to the club, but Jimenez said she’s been told the legal method is slow and there’s no guarantee it will work.
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Several neighbors said they have called the Sheriff’s Office multiple times regarding the stray bullets. Deputies have told them the property is in compliance with local ordinances.
As more than 30 angry residents rallied Wednesday near Hidalgo Park, east of the club, no gunfire was heard. It was a rare quiet moment, residents said, one they guessed was brought on by the media’s brief presence.
But just as the cameras left, gunfire shattered the short-lived silence.
On Thursday, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said the agency is working with the Bexar County Fire Marshal’s Office to review complaints and previously reported incidents that involve the club.
County spokeswoman Monica Ramos said the fire marshal has authority over how the gun range operates under guidelines set by the state and the National Rifle Association.
The fire marshal and county environmental staff met with two of the club owners and informed them of the rules.
After an inspection, officials said they notified the owners about permits that were lacking. No notices of violations or citations were issued.
Aiming for a shutdown
When the co-owners set up the complex, they were told to use large berms to ensure bullets didn’t bounce. They also had to make sure there were no buildings behind the berms for at least 150 feet if the shooters use handguns and 300 feet if they use rifles.
Owner Treviño notes there’s nothing in the direction of the berms for a mile. He provided an aerial view of the range with an arrow extending in the direction people at the club shoot. The arrow appears to point close to a residential street.
He said the Sheriff’s Office has told him the club is following the proper regulations.
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Jimenez is serious about getting the club to shut down its shooting range.
On Friday, private detective Abe Gonzales, hired by Jimenez, was placing flags where buckshots and broken clay pieces lay in the backyard of a home along Hidalgo Avenue.
Experts say that although there are several berms on the property, bullets can ricochet off any rocks mixed in with the dirt.
Gonzales, a retired Texas state trooper, said the clay shards are evidence of skeet shooting, meaning those using the range are aiming in the air. Inexperienced shooters could also be firing above the berms.
The sounds neighbors are hearing are likely shots hitting their roof from BB guns and other types of firearms.
“Obviously the rounds are coming over,” Gonzales said. “All in all, just the location of it is very unsafe.”
Resident Martinez said the community around Hidalgo Park was once busy with barbecues and soccer games on the weekends. Now, people are too afraid of being hit by a stray bullet, particularly on Sundays, when the activity seems to ramp up.