Federal agents yesterday sought records from a Wilkinsburg gun dealership where Richard Poplawski, the accused killer of three Pittsburgh police officers, is believed to have purchased guns.
A man who has described himself as the suspect's best friend told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday that Mr. Poplawski owned four guns and obtained them all legally at Braverman Arms Co., on Penn Avenue in Wilkinsburg, passing the required background checks.
He said Mr. Poplawski also had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, which is issued by the Allegheny County sheriff's office and involves what the sheriff's office calls an "extensive background investigation."
"I've seen it. He showed it to me. He said 'Eddie, get one of these,'" said the friend, Edward Perkovic.
Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen could not be reached yesterday.
Mr. Perkovic said Mr. Poplawski ordered the AK-47 assault-style rifle that police believe was used in Saturday's shooting from an Internet seller. By law, the Internet seller must deliver the weapon to a federally licensed dealer.
He said Mr. Poplawski had the rifle delivered to Braverman Arms and purchased it there. He also bought two pistols and a shotgun from the store's inventory, over a span Mr. Perkovic estimated at one year to 18 months.
"Every gun purchase he ever made was legal," Mr. Perkovic said. "How did he pass all those background checks? Who let him have these guns if technically, legally he wasn't allowed?"
Buddy Savage, owner of Braverman Arms, said agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were at the store yesterday seeking records of Mr. Poplawski's gun purchases.
Mr. Savage confirmed that Mr. Poplawski had bought guns there, but said he could not provide specifics. He said, though, that he did not know of the claim that Mr. Poplawski obtained the AK-47 there.
ATF spokesman John Hageman said the bureau "is assisting the police department in the investigation in tracking down where the weapons came from and how they got into the hands of the shooter."
Two aspects of Mr. Poplawski's past -- his discharge from the Marine Corps in 2005 and a protection-from-abuse order obtained by his girlfriend the same year -- would not necessarily preclude him for buying or possessing guns.
Mr. Poplawski's mother told police he was kicked out of the Marines during basic training for assaulting a drill sergeant.
Citing privacy laws, the Marine Corps refused to divulge whether Mr. Poplawski was given a dishonorable discharge, a severe penalty that would have made it illegal for him to buy or own guns or ammunition, or a less-severe type of discharge that did not carry such a prohibition.
"He enlisted and shipped to recruit training in 2005 and was discharged during training for a psychological disorder," said Marine 2nd Lt. Joshua Diddams.
The PFA order, obtained by Mr. Poplawski's former girlfriend in March 2005, expired 18 months later, in September 2006, court records indicated. While it was in effect, Mr. Poplawski was prohibited from possessing, transferring or acquiring weapons.
Mr. Perkovic said he had no indication that Mr. Poplawski was plotting to harm anyone. "I had no idea he was going to do something of this magnitude or I would have sought help for him," he said.
Mr. Perkovic said he was interviewed by Pittsburgh police yesterday about a 35-second phone conversation he had with Mr. Poplawski at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, after the suspect allegedly had gunned down three city officers but was still holding police at bay from a house in Stanton Heights.
He said Mr. Poplawski told him that he expected to die and expressed his love for Mr. Perkovic, Mr. Perkovic's mother and family. Mr. Perkovic said he heard gunfire in the background and pleaded with Mr. Poplawski to surrender to police.
Mr. Perkovic said police yesterday wanted to know if the suspect sounded gleeful or boastful on the phone.
"It sounded to me like he knew he had made a huge mistake and he didn't know how to turn back from it," Mr. Perkovic said.
Police have said they believed Mr. Poplawski was drinking at a party into the early morning hours before the shooting. He also spent time on Stormfront, a white supremacist Web site in the hours before the shootings.
Mr. Perkovic said he did not know where his friend spent the night before the killings, but said he did not sound intoxicated during the phone call. "He sounded like he was scared or injured."
He said the two had been together Thursday night watching a Penguins game. Afterward, he said, Mr. Poplawski commented that the team appeared headed for the Stanley Cup playoffs and that the two should get tickets.
Correction/Clarification: (Published April 9, 2009) GunBroker.com said its records show it was not involved in the sale of an AK-47 assault-style rifle to Richard Poplawski, accused of killing three Pittsburgh police officers on April 4, 2009. This story as originally published April 7, 2009 quoted a friend as saying Mr. Poplawski had used the Internet site to order the gun.
Jon Schmitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1868.