Gun That Killed Pa. Officer Traced to 'Straw Purchaser'

Oct. 10, 2012
Police in Montgomery County have identified Michael J. Henry, of Philadelphia, as the "straw purchaser" of the gun that killed Plymouth K-9 Officer Bradley Fox.

Oct. 10--Police in Montgomery County have identified Michael J. Henry, of Philadelphia, as the "straw purchaser" of the gun that killed Plymouth K-9 Officer Bradley Fox.

The announcement was made at a news conference today by Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman and Plymouth Township Police Chief Joseph Lawrence.

Henry, 30, of the 900 block of North 41st St., was arrested this morning and charged with nine felonies, each relating to the illegal sale of firearms and giving sworn falsification to authorities.

The sworn falsification charges flow from allegations that Henry lied to authorities on gun-sale applications, police said, by indicating he was purchasing the weapons for himself, not another party.

He was arraigned early this afternoon before Magisterial District Judge Frank Bernhardt in Conshohocken. The judge set bail at $1 million, in response to a prosecution request.

"I'm inclined to grant it, based on the circumstances," Bernhardt said. He scheduled a preliminary hearing for 9 a.m. on Oct. 16.

Black bunting in memory of Fox was hung on the windows of the district court where the arraignment was held. A dozen uniformed Plymouth Township officers watched as Henry was led in handcuffs from the court to a waiting police car for the trip to Montgomery County prison.

Officer Fox, who was one day away from turning 35, was killed in the line of duty Sept. 13. He died of a single gunshot wound to the head while pursuing a hit-and-run suspect near Conshohocken and Ernest Station Roads in Plymouth Township.

The suspect, Andrew Thomas, 44, of Bala Cynwyd, ambushed Fox from behind tall weeds along the Schuylkill Trail, law enforcement officials said. Police said Thomas died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

Detectives said they traced the murder weapon, a 9mm Beretta, and found that it had been purchased for Thomas by Henry on May 30, 2012, at In Site Firearms, 2101 W. Main St., Jeffersonville.

The gun was registered in Henry's name, according to information released at the news briefing.

Investigators said Henry told them that between April 10 and July 31 he bought a total of nine firearms for Thomas, including the Beretta. Henry said that Thomas paid him $500 for making each gun buy, and provided the up-front money for the purchase.

The weapons, including two rifles and seven pistols, were bought at both In Site Firearms and a second gunshop, French Creek Outfitters in Chester County, police said.

Six of the guns were bought at In Site, the other three at French Creek Outfitters, police said.

"In exchange for $500 dollars, Mr. Henry would go to one of the shops and would purchase whatever firearms Mr. Thomas was requesting," Ferman said. Then Henry "would hand it over to him in the parking lot."

"He put nine guns into the hands of a felon," she said. And one of those guns was used to kill a police officer."

According to an affidavit of probable cause, Thomas and Henry discussed the possibility of being stopped by the police while carrying one of the weapons. Thomas told Henry that if stopped by the police, he would flee.

"Thomas told Henry that he 'wouldn't go alive' and that he 'would shoot a cop'" rather than be captured, the affidavit said.

Thomas was wanted by law enforcement officials on minor forgery charges, police said.

Ferman said Henry has a history of drug use. She did not know how Henry spent the money he made selling the firearms. Police are seeking the public's help in finding the other eight weapons.

"There are eight other guns out there on the street that could get in the wrong hands," the district attorney said.

According to its website, In Site Firearms in the Burnridge Shopping Center is owned and operated by retired W. Norriton police officer Luke J. Kelly. Kelly was not at the gun store Wednesday, and there was no answer at his home phone.

A store employee who declined to give his name said only: "We are currently cooperating with the District Attorney's Office. An investigation is ongoing."

Michael Friedland, owner of French Creek Outfitters, said Henry raised "no red flags" when he bought the guns. He passed all the needed state and national background checks, Friedland said.

"If we suspect in any way [the gun] is bought for somebody else, we have the duty to and right to refuse sale," Friendland said. About twice a year, the store refuses to sell weapons to those it suspects may be buying the gun for another person.

Friendland said he "feels terrible" about Fox's death.

The officer's killing touched off a week of memorial ceremonies, including a vigil outside the home of his wife, Lynsay Fox, 28, in Gilbertsville; a motorcycle ride to the Plymouth police station; and a memorial service and burial that drew mourners from as far away as Chicago and Canada.

Fox, a Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, was buried with full military honors in Bucks County.

Since the funeral, numerous fundraisers to assist his family have been held in Montgomery County. Officer Fox leaves a six-month-old daughter, and his wife is expecting the couple's second child in March.

Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or [email protected].

Copyright 2012 - The Philadelphia Inquirer

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