What began as the concern of neighbors over an elderly neighbor with advanced Parkinson’s disease has become a neighborhood-wide shoving match over the man’s future. John Francis Walters-the 64-year-old arrested on August 7 for the alleged possession of illegal assault weapons, whose home yielded an eye-popping cache of 150 rifles, several hundred pounds of ammunition, 50 handguns, swords, and other weapons-is now back at his home on the 1300 block of Salsipuedes Street.
Some outspoken neighbors are not only concerned about his welfare but also fear for their own safety. Having been declared competent, Walters was released from County Mental Health custody-where he had been since his arrest-on August 22. Police and the District Attorney’s Office have said little about the investigation into Walters’s weapons, but several of his neighbors said that his behavior has become increasingly erratic in recent months. “I shined a flashlight in his window and could see that he was naked and confused,” said Christy Jones, one of the neighbors. “I tried to tell him to turn on the light, but he couldn’t get oriented.”
According to some living in the neighborhood, Walters has been taken away by ambulance a few times within the last couple of months, notably on July 30 and August 7 due to what they described as dementia. “He was standing in his bathroom screaming that he was stuck in the attic,” said Cheri Rae, a Daily Sound columnist who wrote about her experience in an August 14 article titled “The Arsenal Next Door.” Some of the neighbors said that Walters should be made a ward of the state or some other entity to protect him from himself and ensure that he is not a threat to other people, but others have said that he can take care of himself. “We’re all trying to be compassionate, but we all have kids and are concerned for our safety,” Rae said in an interview with The Independent.
“I have spoken with the neighbors, and they have expressed concern for his health and welfare-they’re worried about the poor guy,” said Assistant District Attorney Lee Carter, who is prosecuting Walters on the 17 counts of illegal possession of assault weapons Walters has been charged with. However, some residents of the neighboring homes, who said that Walters would frequently get lost within his own home and have hallucinations mid-conversation, are also concerned that the mental stability of a man who was institutionalized as the police carted away his weapons stash is a liability. “The situation is now sad; we expect the authorities to act so that it does not become tragic,” one of the neighbors said in a letter to the Santa Barbara superior court.
The 17 firearms found in his home during the August 7 raid that were considered illegal-some of which were designed for military and law enforcement applications-were part of Walters’s weapons collection, according to a source who asked not to be named, and it was Walters’s wish that his collection would one day be placed in a museum. “He was a gun collector,” said the source. “I think that because there were so many and because people are afraid of guns, he’s being painted as someone who was amassing this arsenal, when that’s not what it was at all. : I think what’s been missing-even in Cheri Rae’s article-is the empathy for a neighbor who is having a hard time because of his infirmities.”
The rest of Walters’s weapons were confiscated as a result of his alleged possession of the illegal ones, and the DA said that if he is convicted, they will not be returned. According to the Santa Barbara Police Department, Walters called them on August 23, the day after his release, saying that he had more weapons he wanted to turn in. “It appears that the motivation behind it was to allay the fears of the neighbors,” said police Public Information Officer Sergeant Lorenzo Duarte, adding that all of the weapons turned in by Walters last week were handguns of the legal variety.
Walters will be arraigned in court on September 10. He declined to comment for this article.