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From an Escondido Plant Nursery, Rifle Shots ring out

Residents of quiet Escondido have complained about the constant gunshots emanating from a nearby house since 2016, and they have been addressed by the county officials. 

The shots usually start early in the morning – residents say they hear thousands of rounds discharged from high-powered weapons a few times a week, sometimes for hours on end. The constant firing has become a disturbing reality after six years. 

“I can’t even sit in my own back patio,”John Carroll was the resident. “It’s unbearable, and it has completely changed the atmosphere of the neighborhood.”  

The 22-acre property is just north of Escondido. It was purchased by Freedom Fighters Foundation, a non profit organization founded by Alex Djokich (a former U.S Border Patrol Agent) and his wife.   

The nonprofit’s mission is “to advance and protect the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution as originally intended by the Founding Fathers,”Its website states.

View from the top of Freedom Fighters Foundation property in Escondido, September 25, 2022. Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Chad Clay Kipper was the Freedom Fighters Foundation’s CEO two years after it purchased the property. The organization fired him after learning of the charges.

The property will be used as a plant nursery. The owners claim that only close friends and family can shoot there.   

Videos Photos on social mediaNeighbors’ accounts and the secretive nature the land management organization indicate that something is more organized.  

The property itself doesn’t fit the county requirements to be a legal shooting range in San Diego County primarily because of its zoning. The property is available for the use of friends and family. It is against the law to hold recurring or commercial shooting events that involve large numbers of people. This also means they can’t charge people to shoot there. 

The Freedom Fighters’ attorney Robert Wright told Voice of San Diego that the owners only invite friends and family to shoot at the property and that they don’t charge fees for use. 

Linda Larsen, a resident of the San Pasqual neighborhood for 8 years says the gunfire is very disruptive and is constantly worried about a fire starting. Also, she is not able sit outside and feels that she has to stay inside.Linda Larsen, an eight-year Escondido resident. Larsen expressed concern over the constant gunfire that she says is disruptive. She stays indoors to reduce the noise. Photo by Ariana Drehsler

However, residents say the Freedom Fighters’ website paints a picture of organized commercial events, ones where members of the public are invited in Large groups can take part in a shooting range experience. The website’s homepage also offers visitors a Chance to win a five-day trip “tactical training adventure”Learn more about the property. 

Posts on social networks from a few years ago, photos on the website, as well as a clip of the Freedom Fighters’ promotional video in This NBC 7 Report is from 2018., show people firing AR-15 rifles, shotguns and pistols at dozens of targets on the Freedom Fighters property near Escondido.  

Residents say they’ve regularly seen dozens of vehicles meet up at a spot near the neighborhood. Once a group has formed the cars move on to the isolated location along the dirt roads. The shooting starts a little later.   

“Just because you are a nonprofit and claim to not charge people, why does that give you the right to run a high-powered tactical shooting range right next to a neighborhood?” resident Ron James said.   

Wright also spoke to NBC 7 on 2018 If they are invited, federal and state law enforcement officers have permitted people to use the target shooting zone.  

Residents have asked for a full investigation from county officials, but that has so far been restricted to a review from the county’s planning department, which handles code compliance and land use conformance. 

Since 2018, county planners have warned Freedom Fighters about illegal clearing, unpermitted constructions and hazardous materials. 

John Carroll a resident who lives in the San Pasqual neighborhood in Escondido on Sept 25, 2022. Carroll says he can’t sit in his backyard because he can hear the constant gunfire.John Carroll, a Escondido resident, lives in the vicinity of the Freedom Fighters property. Photo by Ariana Drehsler

In April 2018, the county sent its first warning letter to Freedom Fighters, advising them to restore the property to its original condition. “previous condition prior to the grading/clearing,”They reversed the clearing on 3.2 acres, which allowed them to set up targets and equipment for a shooting range. 

Freedom Fighters applied for an Agricultural Clearing Permit one year later to convert the property into a Native Plant Nursery. 

Three years later, there’s still no plant nursery and the Freedom Fighters have not reversed the clearing or corrected any of the other code violations that county staff have warned them about since 2018.  

All the warnings warn “enhanced enforcement” and potential penalties if the Freedom Fighters don’t comply, but it’s been four years since those warnings started, and there hasn’t been any enforcement or penalty. 

Residents are concerned about the possibility of a forest fire from the shooting. The area is at risk of wildfires due to its hot, dry climate. Residents claim that shots were fired even on Red Flag Warnings day. 

The San Pasqual neighborhood near the Freedom Fighters Foundation gun range in Escondido on Sept 25, 2022.The Escondido neighborhood can be found near the Freedom Fighters Foundation property, San Pasqual, Sept 25, 2022. Photo by Ariana Drehsler

In 2017, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department responded to complaints that people on the property were shooting during the Lilac fire, which was burning several miles from the range, NBC 7 reported.  

Larry Bordon was the Border Patrol Supervisor present at that range. told sheriff’s deputiesThey are federal agents and therefore the Red Flag warning is not applicable. Djokich was also present at range and identified himself as a Border Patrol Agent.  

The group informed the deputy that they would not be shooting that day.  

In a 2018 correspondence, U.S. Border Patrol stated that it does neither operate a shooting range nor conducts official training on the property.  

Stray bullets from the range have struck the Serbian Orthodox monastery that is next to the property. The building’s exterior is now home to numerous bullet holes. 

Donna Durckel, spokesperson of the county, said that the noise study was done by the county in August 2021 and took place over four consecutive days.   

“We confirmed that firearms were used during this time,”Durckel stated. “On August 4, 2021, analysis of the study was completed, and no violation of the Noise Ordinance was found.”  

John Carroll a resident of the San Pasqual neighborhood in Escondido on Sept 28, 2022.John Carroll outside his home on September 28, 2022. Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Carroll, who accompanied the county representative during the study, said he asked for multiple studies over different weekends, as that specific weekend in August didn’t happen to have a lot of shooting. 

Members of the County Board of Supervisors, including Jim Desmond’s office, which represents this district, referred Voice of San Diego to the County’s Planning and Development Services department.  

Desmond staffer, a spokesperson for the company, stated via Email that the office was “working with county staff to ensure that all laws and regulations are being complied with.” 

Supervisor Terra LawsonRemer was the communications director for Supervisor Terra LawsonRemer. She represented the district in the beginning of the complaints. Lawson-Remer stated this in an email “Lawson-Remer is not available.” “aware of the complaints and is supportive of actions to protect the neighbors.” 

Escondido’s communications representative said that although Escondido is home to the surrounding area, the property is located in the unincorporated county. 

The county Sheriff’s Department confirmed that the property has not and is not being investigated in relation to these allegations. 

Freedom Fighters Foundation members refused to comment on my request, and referred I for legal advice. 

Freedom Fighters addressed county officials in an August letter and stressed their right to shoot according to county law. The Freedom Fighters stated that shooting should be allowed if the materials required to shoot (i.e. It also stated that targets and other structures should be allowed. 

They also stated that neighbors’ complaints are unacceptable. “meritless.” 

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